Mak­ing the last mis­take in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Tony Blank­ley

The de­ci­sions made on Iraq over the next few months will take the mea­sure of Amer­ica’s ma­tu­rity and sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. Be­cause, whether we like it or not, our de­ci­sions — and our de­ci­sions alone — will de­ter­mine whether the barely con­tain­able mur­der­ous patholo­gies of the Mid­dle East will just be dumped into the face of hu­man­ity — or whether ra­tio­nal ef­forts will be per­sisted at to con­tain and mit­i­gate its civ­i­liza­tion-threat­en­ing forces.

We have the most pro­found obli­ga­tion to at­tempt to cal­cu­late the con­se­quences of the im­pend­ing Amer­i­can de­ci­sion to wash our hands of the Iraq un­pleas­ant­ness. In that re­gard, the words of Pres­i­dent Kennedy come to mind: “There are risks and costs to a pro­gram of ac­tion. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of com­fort­able in­ac­tion.”

If we, the most pow­er­ful force on the planet, in a fit of dis­ap­point­ment and anger at our bungling poli­cies to date, de­cide to shrug off our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the fu­ture, we will soon re­ceive, and de­serve, the fu­ri­ous con­tempt of a ter­ri­fied world. In fact, even those Amer­i­cans who to­day can’t wait to end our in­volve­ment in the “hope­less” war in Iraq, will — when the con­se­quences of our ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity be­comes man­i­fest — join the cho­rus of out­rage.

Ex­pe­di­ent Wash­ing­ton politi­cians take note: Your pub­lic is fickle. They may cheer your de­ci­sion to­day to get out of Iraq, but vote you out of of­fice to­mor­row when they don’t like the re­sults.

Much of the world (and a fair por­tion of the Amer­i­can pub­lic) may hate us to­day for our al­leged ar­ro­gance. But they will spit out our name with con­tempt through time if we per­mit to be re­leased the whirl­wind that will fol­low our exit.

I have heard it said (by con­ser­va­tives and Repub­li­cans, as well as oth­ers) that “if the Iraqis just want to mur­der each other, we should let them. We of­fered them free­dom and they didn’t want it.” If our de­ci­sion on Iraq was only about Iraq, that ar­gu­ment might be per­sua­sive.

But if, as it is hard to imag­ine oth­er­wise, our de­par­ture from Iraq yields civil war, chaos, war lordism and ter­ror­ist safe havens — it is very likely that Iran will lurch in to har­vest their ad­van­tages, Turkey will send in its army to stop an in­de­pen­dent Kur­dis­tan and Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and the other Sunni states will be sucked in to fend off Shi’ite Iran’s hege­mony. In that night­mare mael­strom, the 20 mil­lion bar­rels a day of oil shipped from the Per­sian Gulf — and the world econ­omy with it — will be in daily risk of be­ing cut off.

Nor is that all. Al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ists are al­ready gloat­ing that they have whipped the “cow­ardly Amer­i­cans” in Iraq. We will be seen (in fact al­ready are be­gin­ning to be seen) as a weak reed for mod­er­ate Mus­lims to rely on in their hearts-and-mind strug­gle against the rad­i­cal Is­lamists. Osama bin Laden was right in one re­gard: Peo­ple fear and fol­low the strong horse; even more so in Mid­dle East­ern cul­ture where re­straint is seen as weak­ness and mur­der is seen as strength.

In the face of such a dread­ful like­li­hood, the emerg­ing Wash­ing­ton con­sen­sus is an ex­er­cise in self­delu­sion un­wor­thy of a 5-year-old. The al­most con­sen­sus Wash­ing­ton ar­gu­ment as­sumes that if only we will for­mally talk with them, Iran and Syria will vol­un­teer to pull our chest­nuts out of the fire while we start re­mov­ing troops from Iraq. Such ar­gu­ments ex­em­plify the wit­ti­cism that when ideas fail, words come in very handy.

Iran has been our per­sis­tent en­emy for 27 years; Syria longer. They may well be glad to give us cover while we re­treat — but that would merely be an ex­er­cise in slightly de­layed grat­i­fi­ca­tion — not self-de­nial, let alone be­nig­nity. So long as Iran is ruled by its cur­rent rad­i­cal Shi’ite theoc­racy, she will be vig­or­ously and vi­o­lently un­der­cut­ting any po­ten­tially pos­i­tive, peace­ful forces in the re­gion — and is al­ready trig­ger­ing a pro­longed clash with the ter­ri­fied Sunni na­tions. Our ab­sence from the re­gion will only make mat­ters far worse.

We need to start un­der­min­ing by all meth­ods avail­able that dan­ger­ous Ira­nian regime — as the Ira­nian peo­ple, free to ex­press and im­ple­ment their own opin­ions and poli­cies, are our great­est nat­u­ral al­lies in the Mus­lim Mid­dle East.

We have only two choices: Get out and let the en­su­ing Mid­dle East firestorm en­flame the wider world; or stay and with shrewder poli­cies and grow­ing ma­te­rial strength man­age and con­tain the dan­ger.

Those who call them­selves real­ists are the least re­al­is­tic. Their great un­re­al­ity is that they can’t imag­ine that the pas­sions of the peo­ple — for good or ill — are to be reck­oned with. Thus it was they who for half a cen­tury sup­ported and ex­ploited the Mid­dle East dic­ta­tors who caused the Is­lamist patholo­gies that threaten the world to­day. It is they who will do busi­ness with the cor­rupt dic­ta­tors to the very minute that they are over­thrown by the Is­lamist mobs. They will keep the cash reg­is­ter hum­ming un­til it is flooded with blood. The “real­ists’ “ un­jus­ti­fied con­ceit is, to­day, the most dan­ger­ous pathol­ogy fac­ing Amer­ica.

As in all strug­gles, each side will make mis­takes. We have cer­tainly made sev­eral. But as the last cen­tury’s great chess mas­ter Savielly Grig­orievitch Tar­takower once fa­mously ob­served: “Vic­tory goes to the player who makes the next-to­last mis­take.” Re­treat­ing from Iraq would be the last mis­take.

Tony Blank­ley is edi­to­rial page ed­i­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times. He can be reached via e-mail at tblank­ley@wash­ing­ton­

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