If it seems like only yesterday, it was. And it’s continuing today. Before the Iraq campaign, the media libs were warning that if we didn’t give the U.N. more time, we’d be perceived as outlaws if we took military action to rid ourselves of the threat of Saddam’s regime. Shortly after military action began — when our forces were winning so quickly, they had to stop for a couple of days to catch up with themselves — our betters informed us we were in a quagmire, that Iraq was a sandy version of Vietnam. When Saddam’s statue was thrown over in downtown Baghdad, the media itself had to take an operational pause. But not for long.
As weeks passed, and our inability to find Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction became more puzzling, we were treated to the “false war” campaign, which continues even now. But even if we find the WMD, those — such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. — will still shout about the “falsified” and “politically-motivated” and re-written intelligence reports that were used to create a casus belli. As Schlesinger made clear in a Saturday column in the Washington Post, that argument will be heard until we find enormous amounts of WMD, and prove that they were “deployed” for immediate use. He wrote, “Unearthing buried WMD would not establish Iraq as a clear and present danger to the United States. Deployment of WMD would have come much closer to convincing people that Iraq was a mortal threat.” Closer, but still not sufficient. Nothing will be sufficient to satisfy the Dems and the media. They need to delegitimize the Iraq campaign, for to do so is their only means to defeat Mr. Bush next year.
And that, after all, is what it’s all about. As Seattle congressman “Baghdad Jim” McDermott said last week, the Dems are planning to make the “false war” — and failure to find WMD — their Numero Uno argument against Mr. Bush next year. It won’t work. Americans support military action in Iraq — and anywhere else terrorists are found — by a substantial margin. But for the Dems, especially Howard Dean (the “maple-flavored McGovern,” as Larry Sabato called him) it’s still 1968. And we’re back to the “Q” word, which will be their campaign slogan for ’04. Last Friday night, Gunga Dan Rather previewed the case against the continued involvement of American forces in Iraq. It’s the beginning of the drumbeat to withdraw from Iraq before we should, just as these very same media mentionables led us to do in Vietnam. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now, but for very different reasons.
We crept into Vietnam gradually, and crept out with our tail between our legs. From Harry Truman’s presidency to John Kennedy’s, we gradually increased our presence in a land half a world away, where our interests were not clear to Americans. Johnson set our path to defeat, and Nixon didn’t have the courage or political capital to face it and win.
Vietnam really wasn’t an American war. This one is. Sending young Americans to die in Southeast Asia to prevent some dominos from falling isn’t comparable to sending them to destroy terrorists and the regimes that sponsor them. If the North Vietnamese had sponsored a 9-11 against America, can anyone doubt that Ho Chi Minh would have been killed or forced to flee into China? Gunga Dan Rather and is pals want to turn America’s mood back to what it was thirty-five years ago, forcing another scene like the indelible image of the last helo out of Saigon. Withdrawal from Vietnam certainly left the South Vietnamese in slavery, and left the field open for Pol Pot’s genocide. This is different. If we withdraw from Iraq before it is a stable democracy — whether it’s this year or 2103 — will allow our enemies to create another Iran or Saudi Arabia to sponsor terrorism against us.
Gunga Dan and the others are now pressing the case that the extended terms our troops are serving in Iraq is taking a terrible toll on them, their families, and their mission. As to the first two, they’re right.
Most of the men and women serving in Iraq have already been there for months, and have been away from their homes and families for much longer. It is a strain on them, and the sacrifices they are making are anything but trivial. About sixty-one Americans have been killed there since the military operations ended about two months ago. Our troops can’t safely go to an open-air market. Terrorists and remnants of the Baathist Saddamites are there in force. Serving away from home is rarely easy, and having fought a war and then been asked to keep the peace where there isn’t any, the pressure on them is enormous. If they come to believe they are doing something useless or impossible, even the best soldiers — which ours and our Coalition partners are — can lose heart.
They inevitably lose heart when they lose the trust they have for their leaders, and believe the people at home don’t support them. Neither of those events is likely to occur in this presidency. The emotional costs to our troops and their families of their extended time in Iraq cannot be ignored. We must do everything we can to lessen that cost, except bring them home. To hint that we should withdraw them before the job is done because of those costs is to do them — and our nation — a great injustice. Have you heard the term “Iraqization” yet? If you haven’t, you will soon.
Vietnamization failed for many reasons. First among them is that Uncle Ho understood us better than we understood ourselves. He knew he could patiently outwait us, and that with the calls for cessation of assistance to South Vietnam, we’d go home eventually. Whatever we did with the South Vietnamese, they were less dedicated to keeping themselves free than the North was to enslaving them. Iraqization can and will succeed if we don’t talk about withdrawal, and invest whatever it takes, for however long it takes. American forces need to be in Iraq long enough to prevent a radical theocracy — or some other despotism — from taking hold.
We also need to quit thinking we’re so damned smart. The State Department and CIA still think they’re smarter than Caesar and Clive of India combined. Paul Bremer and the rest are failing in one of their principal duties, turning Iraq over to the Iraqis. The president needs to direct them to stop pussyfooting around and get on with it. While they do that, we need to accelerate the establishment of a provisional government there, something we should have done months ago.
The next time you hear the media ask, “why are we still in Iraq?” think how the Middle East looked two years ago. Think about the Taliban, Saddam, and the others who we have fought, and those sponsors of terror who we will have to fight sooner or later. For most of us, the question answers itself. But not for people like the maple-flavored McGovern, or Gunga Dan.