Jon Stewart, proving once again that his analysis is superior to mainstream news sources, noted a key contradiction in the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. While they cannot predict with any certainty what will happen in Iraq if U.S. troops remain, they can predict with precision what will happen if we leave: genocide, chaos, a regional conflagration, and the emboldening of al Qaeda.
This is noteworthy because it proves what critics of the current policy have been saying for some time: we have no coherent plan for stability in Iraq, and our only reason for staying is the prospect that things could get worse if we leave. In defense of Bush supporters you can’t really blame them for emphasizing the downside of leaving rather than the upside of staying; it’s their job after all to put the best spin on the Administration’s policy.
What this means, of course, is that the Iraq project has come down to a tremendous risk fraught with tremendous uncertainty. Nobody has much of a clue what is going to happen; withdrawing forces might create more of an incentive for the various sects to reach the political compromise that everyone realizes is the key to stability, or it might lead to greater partition and strife.
The problem is that while we manage the Iraq conflict and debate its merits, there are developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are extremely troubling and only getting worse (with 100% certainty). Iran is sending vast shipments of arms to the Taliban, who are growing in strength; in addition, as the recent National Intelligence Estimate noted, Al Qaeda is building a major new stronghold in the Warizistan Province of Pakistan.
It is inconceivable that six years after 9/11 we could be so myopic in our foreign policy that we would allow our greatest foes to regain their strength. Supporters of the Iraq War have never come to grips with the fact that our Iraq policy does not exist in a vacuum; there are very damaging opportunity costs associated with our level of commitment in Iraq, political, financial, and military.
It is time for the opponents of staying the course to make a forceful case that the resources being spent in Iraq, for uncertain aims far off in the future, could be much better utilized against the home base of those who attacked us on 9/11 and who have been behind most of the barely thwarted attacks in Europe. It is time to focus attention on the opportunity costs of the Iraq War, and show the American public that withdrawal does not mean isolation and retreat but rather a renewed focus on America’s deadliest enemies. This is the strategy that I would urge the Democratic presidential candidates to embrace; this is the strategy that will enable them to turn back the utterly false charge that they favor surrender and defeat.
Unfortunately, those who look towards the end of the Iraq War as the beginning of a major reduction in American military activity around the world are almost certainly going to be sorely disappointed.
President Bush has always been right about one thing: we must be on the offensive. The key is to fight the right enemies on the right battlefields, with clear objectives and a clear appreciation of our means for achieving those objectives. American power is not unlimited, nor is the patience of the American public.
Our power must be used wisely in ways that maximize national security. The current policy is only making us weaker as our true enemies regroup and prepare to strike.