Let’s look before we leap

Published 1:11 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The conviction that the United States ought to pull out of Iraq is growing. It is not (yet) the opinion of a majority of the American people; polls indicating that a majority is seriously dissatisfied with the way things are going there don’t translate readily into a conclusion that we ought to bug out. But the Democrats are slowly pulling together around that proposition, and a few prominent conservatives (including Bill Buckley) have joined them in throwing in the towel.

In this state of affairs, I rise to suggest that we look before we leap. Granted, the situation in Iraq is a thoroughgoing mess. That is not to say that it cannot possibly turn out well in the long run. Saddam Hussein has been ousted, and a popularly elected successor government has taken over. It is simply too early to conclude that it must fail. And if it succeeds in establishing itself firmly, the consequences for the entire Middle East will richly justify all the blood and treasure that have been spent in working toward that end.

On the other hand, the Iraqi government’s situation is precarious. Its terrorist opponents, and the armed militias of the rival Islamic factions, have lately been successful in killing about a hundred Iraqis a week. Army Gen. John Abizaid has acknowledged that, unless this level of violence abates, the nation “could” slide toward civil war. In recent weeks, the United States has been compelled to send additional troops into Baghdad to do what the Iraqis have thus far been unable to do for themselves.

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In addition, and from the American standpoint even worse, several American soldiers are still dying in Iraq every week. It is true that the total lost in over three years of war is less than half the average casualty rate of any one of 40 months in World War II, and barely more than one-twentieth of those lost in Korea or Vietnam, but the very fact that the deaths are relatively few enables the media to highlight each of them. And the terrorists’ habit of beheading or otherwise butchering their victims has proven especially hard for the American public to bear.

But it is surely reasonable to ask exactly what would happen if the United States did in fact conduct an “orderly withdrawal” of its forces from Iraq. Would peace suddenly break out in the Middle East? Would Osama bin Laden and the worldwide terrorist network, which has struck so effectively in New York, London, Madrid, Bombay, Bali and elsewhere, conclude that its mission had been accomplished and recede quietly into the shadows of the Hindu Kush? Would the whole Islamic world, which has recently erupted in humiliated fury against the West, relapse into self-satisfaction?

On the contrary, the United States would be confirmed in its recent reputation as a world-class coward, ready to cut and run in the face of a handful of Muslims prepared to die for their faith. The Middle East would become a seething cauldron of anti-American regimes, pledged to destroy Israel, deny vital oil to the West, and extend Muslim domination over Europe and ultimately the rest of the world. And terrorist bands like the Sept. 11 hijackers would be dispatched to every continent — and most particularly to the United States — to wreak havoc wherever they could. The nuclear weapons of Pakistan, and those soon to come in Iran and perhaps elsewhere, would be added to the arsenals of jihad.

I don’t recall hearing what Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi plan to do to prevent these things from happening, or to cope with them if they happen. No doubt they would deny responsibility and blame George W. Bush, but just how much consolation would that afford the American people?

The events of Sept. 11 were a wake-up call, that notified Americans they were in a war. It had actually been going on for some time, but could largely be ignored as long as the bombings all occurred somewhere overseas. To his credit, President Bush has acted decisively to win that war, and we had better hope he succeeds, for we have no choice but to wage it. The only question is where.