Yesterday, General John Abizaid gave some frank testimony to Congress about the perils of an arbitrary timetable for withdrawal in Iraq:
Gen. John P. Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, said bolstering the training effort could require a further increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, already higher than expected at more than 140,000, and said no cuts are planned.
Facing searing questions from Democrats and Republicans alike, some of whom voiced disappointment in Abizaid and questioned his credibility, the general acknowledged mistakes in the war effort. But he voiced optimism that Iraq’s military can stabilize the country, given enough U.S. backing and political support from Iraq’s government.
“We haven’t misled people. We have learned some hard lessons,” he said in one tense exchange before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
First of all, the Democrats have been pushing for a withdrawal from Iraq, seeing the election results as a referendum on the popularity of the war. The problem with that logic is that the unpopularity of the war doesn’t mean that the American people necessarily want to see America abrogate its responsibilities towards the Iraqi people. We can’t just wash our hand of the whole thing and leave the Iraqis to tear their country apart. Even John Murtha speaks of “redeployment” — despite the fact that anyone who seriously thinks that the US could control events from Kuwait — no less Okinawa, doesn’t have much of an understanding of how military force works. We can’t keep Iraq from falling into anarchy from 35,000 feet, we need to have boots on the ground.
The military remains the most trusted institution in American society. For the Democrats to argue for withdrawal above the objections of the military would be a political mistake. What the American people want to see is some level of progress in Iraq. A change of course is necessary to secure that progress, but if our change of course is a quick rush to the exit, then we’re merely surrendering to al-Qaeda.
Like it or not, the Democrats have to face the fact that trying to reopen the issues of 2003 is utterly irrelevant. The Democrats voted to go into Iraq, and now that we’re there they cannot simply abrogate our responsibilities and leave Iraq in shambles. Iraq may not have been a centerpiece of the war on terror in 2003, but there is absolutely no question that it is now. The Democratic majority is now in the position where they have to do more than merely carp about the situation, they have to decide whether they’ll pull the plug or not. Given the horrendous costs of surrendering the field of battle in Iraq to our enemies, that is not a choice that a responsible government could make. However, the Democrats are a profoundly irresponsible party at this point in history.
The Democrats should listen to the commanders in the field in Iraq. A withdrawal along an arbitrary timeline would be a disaster. They have an opportunity to prove their critics wrong and show that they can be a responsible political party — if they blow this opportunity they will not only suffer, but millions of innocent Iraqis will also.