With some discussion even among conservative friends that the U.S. should start pulling troops out of Iraq, Mortimer B. Zuckerman gives some good reasons in a recent editorial why we shouldn’t. When he writes, “For those who think it was a big mistake to go in, it would be a bigger mistake to quit now,” he’s referring to me. I never thought we should invade Iraq when we did; nevertheless, now that we’ve deposed Saddam (and the world is better for it), we need to stay until Iraq is stable.
The consequences of leaving Iraq prematurely could be a radical Islamic regime funded with oil revenues, an unfettered platform for terrorist attacks, destabilizing the Middle East and threatening America itself. Know the enemy. Zarqawi has a long history of terrorist activities. He organized the assassination of Lawrence Foley, a U.S. Agency for International Development official, in Amman in 2002, he planned terrorist attacks in Germany a year later, and he plotted last year to attack Jordan’s intelligence service and prime minister’s office, as well as the U.S. and Israeli embassies there. Three al Qaeda operators crossed from Iraq into Jordan, smuggling seven Katyusha missiles in the underbelly of an aging Mercedes with a hidden second gas tank. Moreover, Jordanians discovered a warehouse of chemical substances and 20 tons of explosives. The 71 types of chemical substances included nerve gas and substances that cause third-degree burns and asphyxiation. Ultimately, the terrorists were diverted, but this is the kind of mayhem we can expect if al Qaeda is permitted to establish paramountcy in Iraq. This year, of course, it was Zarqawi who masterminded the suicide attacks on the three tourist hotels in Amman in which dozens died.
In short, we must stay. What may have been originally a war of choice is now a war of necessity. So we must stop all this destabilizing talk about withdrawal. To withdraw to some timetable divorced from reality on the ground would grant militant Islam a huge victory, and Arabs who want to democratize and modernize would know they could not count on America to stand by its friends. Whatever the cost of our staying may be, the cost of retreat would be much higher. It would hardly persuade Zarqawi and his fellow terrorists to stop pursuing Americans around the globe. For those who think it was a big mistake to go in, it would be a bigger mistake to quit now.
Indeed, a withdrawal would be presented across the Arab world as a defeat of the American infidels by the jihadists who would inflate the glory of victory and attract many new followers. It would also undermine our strategy of hitting terrorists hard abroad, while loyal allies and new friends around the world would find themselves leaderless in the global struggle against Islamist radicalism. A loss of nerve and a humiliating retreat would seriously undermine America’s role in the world. Indeed, what a foolish time to talk of getting out, just when we are getting our act together with the accelerated and improved training of Iraqi troops, and just before an election when Shiites and Sunnis are working to form the sort of institutions required to build a nation and quell the low-level civil war. After all, the insurgency is not destined to succeed. They are not fighting for a clear ideology; they lack any great power backing; they lack a positive agenda; they lack a charismatic leader; they have no territory of their own; they lack the support of the Shiites and the Kurds, as well as a significant portion of the Sunni population.
When America has prevailed in foreign ventures, it has been in the places where it stayed–in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, never mind Germany, Japan, and South Korea; in the places where America left too soon–Haiti, Somalia, and Vietnam–the results speak for themselves.