Reclaiming the High Ground on Iraq

September 6, 2007

Given our success with the counterinsurgency operations and the stakes involved in the outcome of the war in Iraq, President Bush and other Republicans have a window to restate their case for the importance of Iraq in the War on Terror. They should seize the opportunity before war opponents have another chance to discourage the war effort.

Let’s agree to disagree right now on whether we should have attacked Iraq in the first place. Let Democrats savor the prospect of using that issue for the 2008 elections — if things turn back around for them and against our progress in Iraq.

But we’re in Iraq now, and whether we win or lose matters — believe it or not — and when we begin to withdraw our troops matters because it will affect whether we win. But we shouldn’t allow the answer to either question to be affected by disputes over the justification for our initial attack.

The preliminary success of the “surge” has greatly undermined the Democrats’ position on a number of fronts, which is why they are trying to destroy General David Petraeus’s credibility in advance of his favorable report. It is why they are developing new strategies to secure our withdrawal, such as backing off their demands for a firm withdrawal date to lure “moderate” Republicans into joining their cut-and-run scheme.

Democrats have said this is a civil war, that America’s presence is exacerbating the ethnic rivalry and prolonging the war, that Al Qaeda’s involvement is marginal, that the war is “unwinnable,” and that even if we are making great strides militarily, we are getting nowhere politically.

They’ve said that remaining in Iraq fuels Al Qaeda recruiting efforts while withdrawing would deter them.

They’ve said Iraq is not part of the War on Terror and implied that our withdrawal will not constitute a setback to us in the WOT, nor will it result in disastrous consequences for Iraq, the Iraqi people or the Middle East.

They’ve said we should refocus our efforts on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and on better pursuing Osama bin Laden.

It’s not just the success of the surge that is unraveling the Democrats’ war against the war but also the primary reasons behind that success. Our revised strategy to capture and hold territory has reportedly emboldened Iraqi ethnic groups formerly helping Al Qaeda to turn to us and against Al Qaeda. Democrats are well aware of this, which is why some of them, like Sen. Chuck Schumer, are denying our military the credit for turning things around.

If the surge is neutralizing Al Qaeda, and this neutralization is leading to a dramatic turnaround in the Iraq War overall, the Democrats’ multipronged excuses for opposing the war fall like dominoes.

Exposing Al Qaeda as the main catalyst for the war militates against concluding this has been a civil war as opposed to terrorist activity and ethnic conflict escalated to violence largely at the instigation of Al Qaeda and other outside forces. It also proves that Iraq truly is part of the War on Terror — if we need further proof than Al Qaeda’s blood commitment to our defeat in Iraq.

In Iraq, Al Qaeda is not just fighting over Middle Eastern real estate but is also testing our resolve in the War on Terror. Al Qaeda knows, even if some of us don’t, that the outcome in Iraq will greatly affect the outcome of the larger WOT. If Al Qaeda drives us out — by wearing down our will — it will take that as a green light to attack us and our interests elsewhere, just as with Mogadishu.

Our victory will also turn on its head the Democrats’ claim that Iraq serves as Al Qaeda’s best recruitment tool. Regardless of whether our attacking Iraq stimulated Al Qaeda recruitment, cutting and running at Al Qaeda’s behest would seal the deal. Conversely, it will greatly demoralize Al Qaeda if we defeat it in Iraq, especially with the help of Iraqis.

The Democratic leadership is way too invested in defeat to climb on board the reality train now. But Republicans should use this favorable Petraeus report to insist that we change the terms of the debate on Iraq.

Republicans have been far too defensive about Iraq and thus too malleable to Democratic demands that we begin withdrawal. If the mission is as important as we claim, we should refuse to allow consideration of the withdrawal date to be the focal point of the debate.

Instead, we should be concentrating on achieving a victory in Iraq — for as long as it takes — because a victory there is essential to our victory in the War on Terror. The better we fare in Iraq, the safer we’ll be going forward — no matter how adamantly Democrats deny it.