The Iraqi Ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaida’ie has an important editorial in today’s Washington Post on why it is critical that we not abandon Iraq at this critical juncture:
Our enemies’ strategy has never changed: creating mayhem and making Iraq ungovernable, thereby driving the Americans and their allies out, and installing a Saddam Hussein look-alike to “make peace.” In pursuing this strategy, they have forged many alliances and changed course and tactics many times.
Just as they kept to their strategy and adapted, we should do the same. In this context, “staying the course” should mean being ready to adapt and learn while also standing firm for democracy and for a new vision for the country and the region. If we abandon our effort, our enemies win by default.
That’s just the issue. The consequences of a premature departure of American forces from Iraq would be nothing less than an unmitigated disaster. Isolationists on both the left and right wings cannot ignore the fact that the Middle East is a strategic region in world affairs — as nice as it would be to no longer be dependent on Middle Eastern oil, we are, and an instability in that region that threatens regional warfare would be devastating not only to the United States, but to everyone else as well. We simply cannot afford to allow that to happen.
The arguments of the left keep coming around to defeatism. It’s one thing to suggest that the current course of events has proven our plans to be ill-conceived. It’s entirely another to suggest that Iraq is unwinnable. It isn’t, and to say such a thing only demonstrates to other troublemakers that the military force of the United States can be defeated in short order by small groups of terrorists. Such a lesson will not go unnoticed in Tehran, Damascus, Pyongyang, and other places where those who intend us harm lurk. We’re already dangerously close to setting that precedent already.
The fact remains that this is, and always has been, predominantly a war of wills. Over a three-year long conflict we’ve lost fewer than 3,000 soldiers in two theaters of operations. One should never belittle the enormous loss that each one of those casualties represents, but in military terms never in the course of human history has so much been done with so few losses. A significant number of our own soldiers who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan have been equipped with prosthetics and gone back into battle. Their determination and sense of purpose is strong. If we want to win this war, our determination must be as great as theirs.
The people of Iraq also know the stakes. As the Ambassador writes:
Is all this achievable? We know it is. Iraqis are resilient. They thirst for normality and a chance to build a future in freedom and dignity. They are fighting and dying for it every day — witness the numbers enlisting in the security forces despite horrific losses. Witness the support Iraqi women are providing for the political process, and the potential of their emancipation.
The Iraqis are on the front line of this conflict. Their home is the war zone. We have an obligation to assist them as much as we can for as long as we can. That doesn’t mean that Iraqi will become a permanent American protectorate, but it does mean that once we toppled the Hussein regime we should have walked away and washed our hands of the whole affair. Such an act would be deeply irresponsible. Whether or not it was right to remove the Hussein regime in 2003 is now an academic question. It cannot be undone. What we need now is a strategy for achieving victory, not how we can best tuck our tail between our legs.
Achieving victory in Iraq has been hard, and we have made progress, but as long as our enemy thinks that their will is greater than ours, we’re only sowing the seeds of our own defeat. Those who have chosen to use this war for their partisan political purposes are, intentionally or not, emboldening our enemies and proving bin Laden’s observation that America was but a paper tiger to have been true.
Leaving Iraq may save American lives in the short term, to be sure. But in the next war we will pay for our mistake many times over. Allowing Iraq to fall into anarchy is not in our interests, it isn’t in the Iraqi people’s interest, and it isn’t in the interest of world peace.
If we believe in values like democracy, freedom of conscience, and human rights, we are obligated to defend them in Iraq. If we fail to do this, ultimately we will prove ourselves unworthy of them.