The calls for timelines for withdrawal from Iraq, as well as the drop in public support for the mission forces us to reassess the implications of leaving Iraq in the lurch prior to defeating the insurgency. In yesterday’s post “US public opinion and Iraq” , Dan Darling touches on some of the issue of the real costs of abandoning Iraq to al Qaeda and the Baathist insurgents.
If Iraq fails, it won’t be bad for the right or the left, it’ll be bad for everyone. You want to see al Qaeda recruiting skyrocket, you wait till bin Laden and Zarqawi get to boast that they sent the US home with a bloody nose and (rightly) claim that we won’t have the fortitude to intervene to stop them anywhere else, which means they get free rein of the region. Moreover, a US defeat in Iraq will essentially end the Arab reform/democratization process. With no US encouragement to democratize and al Qaeda coming to call, every despot in the region will clamp down and prepare for a fight. I know I would if I were Mubarak, Mohammed, Abdullah, Saleh, or any of the other rulers of the region.
Last summer, in response to John Kerry’s stated goal to set a timeline for withdrawal during his first term as president, I outlined the consequences this reckless policy in a post titled Abandoning Iraq:
* Losing a Front. Iraq is a crucial front in the War on Terror. Al Qaeda is active in Iraq, via its affiliates Ansar al Islam and Tawhid and Dawa. Their goal is to drive us out of the region and prevent the establishment of democracy, which they view as a mortal threat to their attempts to establish the new Islamic Caliphate and impose Sharia law.
* Al Qaeda Wins. Al Qaeda attacked us because they believed we were weak did not have the will to fight. Withdrawing from Iraq would prove this point and provide a boon to their recruiting. Osama bin Laden himself stated this in an interview in 1998, reacting to American attacks on his camps in Afghanistan.
Whether they try or not, we have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier.
The raid has also proven that the American army is going down hill in its morale. Its members are too cowardly and too fearful to meet the young people of Islam face to face.
* Geography. Our political and military strategic advantage in Iraq would be lost. We would no longer have troops stationed next door to Iran and Syria, the two top terror-sponsoring nations. Iraq is an ideal location to base American troops in the region, and would also potentially provides an excellent location to base missile defense systems if Iran goes nuclear.
* In the Lurch. Regional allies (Israel, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE) as well as global allies took great risks to back us in the invasion of Iraq. Our credibility worldwide would be shattered. Few, if any, nations would be willing to back us in the future for fear of America’s lack of resolve. Invading Iraq requires a commitment to see it through. Without American protection and commitment, our allies in the Middle East would be exposed to the wrath of anti American forces.
* Death of Democracy. Any hopes of establishing democracy and changing the culture of oppression in the Middle East would be lost. The culture of oppression is a real root cause of terrorism, and abandoning Iraq will kill any chance of change in the region. Governments of the Middle East would crack down further on any dissident groups to consolidate their power and prevent the rise of radical Islam.
* Spiral of Violence. The Iraqi people would be consigned to a life of violence and despair, their hopes for freedom would be lost. The proper analogy would be the American abandonment of Vietnam. In the aftermath millions of South Vietnamese were murdered, imprisoned, placed in forced reeducation camps or died in makeshift boats attempting to flee the Communist North (incidentally, John Kerry estimated a Communist takeover of the South would adversely impact no more than 5,000 South Vietnamese). The violence also spread to Cambodia, where millions were murdered by the Khmer Rouge.
* The Balkanization of Iraq. Iraq would likely split into three separate regions, Shiite, Sunni and Kurd. These regions would fall prey to the Iranians, Syrians, Saudis, and Turks as each has political, economic and military interests in the respective regions.
* Intelligence. We are building Iraq’s security and intelligence services. These organizations will provide the eyes and ears in the heart of the Middle East, with vital assets we could not dream of replicating (Arab agents, language, etc.) Losing this potential asset would be a blow to our intelligence gathering capabilities.
* Regional Giant. Iran would become the regional powerhouse and encouraged to go nuclear. Armed with nuclear weapons, it would threaten a majority of the world’s known oil reserves. Nations would scramble to build or purchase nuclear weapons to defend themselves, as America cannot be depended upon to provide for their defense any longer.
An American withdrawal from Iraq would shatter our support in the region. We would no longer maintain a significant presence in the region and would be unable to prevent the rise of a nuclear Iran or other such threats. We would be unable to effectively act preemptively in the region or maintain significant intelligence capabilities. America would be forced to rely on punitive expeditions to respond to any attacks on American soil, but we would have inadequate means to do so due to lack of resources on the ground. Our inability to effectively respond (and history demonstrates that air and cruise missile strikes alone are not effective) may force us to use more lethal means to respond to terrorist attacks.
These are points the antiwar crowd refuses to understand, or buries under the mantle of partisan politics. As Dan clearly states, “If Iraq fails, it won’t be bad for the right or the left, it’ll be bad for everyone.” And “everyone” isn’t just the American public.
Many of us who support the current war do so for humanitarian reasons. America’s response to direct attacks on the heart of its political and economic spheres has been quite tame by historical standards. A political defeat in the conventional battle of Iraq increases the likelihood of the war getting far uglier, and much more deadly. America’s true power has yet to be tapped, and as the body count piles up in the states after al Qaeda becomes emboldened by the weakness of the “paper tiger”, the American public’s prohibitions against a full military call up and punitive invasion of the Middle East, or the use of nuclear weapons, will recede. Then “everyone” will pay.
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