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The Danger of Immediate Withdrawal

Most people would acknowledge that the war in Iraq has gone very poorly to date.  An invasion meant to eliminate weapons of mass destruction and lend to stabilization of the region has accomplished neither goal, although it has rid the world of a brutal dictator.  Iraq is teetering on the edge of civil war, while bombings and death of American forces as well as Iraqis are a regular occurrence.  However, the most dangerous situation in Iraq is not the current violence, it is the threat that we will leave without stabilizing the country and the region.  And the recent passage by Congress of a planned withdrawal makes the possibility of this threat occurring very real and very concerning.  

Around two decades ago the U.S. was involved in another foreign conflict.  US forces were helping Afghans to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.  We provided training, we provided equipment, and together we won the battle.  But we left shortly thereafter and as it turns out, way too soon.  And despite winning the battle, we lost the war.  This highly destabilized region eventually spawned the beginnings of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and greatest attack towards American civilians in our history. 

While the circumstances were a bit different in the 1980s, in many ways leaving Iraq now, without achieving a higher level of stability could be even more dangerous.  The Senate-passed bill calls for beginning withdrawals within 120 days, and sets a non-binding goal of completion by March 2008.  The threat from Congress of a rapid withdrawal is the absolute wrong way to deal with the dangerous environment. 

Immediate withdrawal sends the exact opposite message that our friends and enemies alike should hear.  It says “when the going gets really tough, we’re going to leave the place in a hurry and in a mess”.  This message will not inspire confidence from our allies in future conflicts but it will inspire confidence from our enemies.  Confidence, that if our enemies can hang on just a little longer they can outlast America and its short term commitments.  Hardly a message that should be sent as we are waging an aggressive campaign to squash the insurgency and make Iraq a safer place not only for Iraqis but to prevent it from becoming another terrorist breeding ground.  And hardly a message that we would want Al Qaeda, Iran or North Korea to hear.

Worse still, Iran is at least carefully following the Iraqi conflict if not actively participating in it.  How we handle Iraq will have repercussions for how much of a threat Iran will pose to Iraq, the Middle East, Israel and ultimately America.  Iran would love nothing more than for us to rapidly leave Iraq.  Doing so allows Iran to exercise far greater influence in Iraq and that could spell serious trouble from a government that openly calls for the destruction of Israel. 

Leaving Iraq in such disarray looks somewhat similar to leaving Afghanistan in chaos with one major exception, the dangerous addition of an aspiring nuclear power, Iran.  If we fail to stabilize Iraq, and if insurgents and terrorists organize and thrive as they traditionally do in unstable regions, there likely will be repercussions for American interests overseas as well as domestically.  The potential damage to the United States through terrorism resulting from a rapid Iraqi withdrawal is real could be significant.  But much more worrisome, the potential damage to America and Israel from a far more powerful, emboldened, and potentially nuclear capable Iran.

It takes a heck of a lot of guts to stick around in a war that has gone badly, costs too much money and too many lives and has not accomplished many good things for America or the region.  It also takes guts to continue to ask our brave troops to make sacrifices without seeing immediate positive returns.  But it’s very unwise to look at a situation, not like it, and for that reason alone run from it.  We must certainly analyze what happens if we leave right now and compare it against what happens if we leave after we are able to achieve a reasonable level of stability. 

When looked at from a politician’s perspective, the push for rapid withdrawal makes perfect sense.  The Iraq war is wildly unpopular.  And politicians looking to position themselves for reelection, or for a presidential run, figure that they will be more popular if they vigorously oppose the war and try to end it as rapidly as possible.  Sadly, such a stance probably will give them additional brownie points at the polls.  Putting the selfish interest of reelection ahead of the long term interest of the security of America is indeed shameful, but if spun and worded the right way it does win elections. 

Equally shameful is buying votes for ending the conflict from Congress people in exchange for funding their pet projects.  Whether it is speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, or anyone else in a position of influence, the public and the media should be outraged that our lives, that freedom for human beings, that the safety of our troops and our allies could ever be for sale.

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