- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

Q: If the United States fails to establish a secure and successful government in Iraq, will it have an effect on the future of the United States?

A: If history serves as a guide, it likely will.

I have come to believe we are at a fork in the road, and as Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

This is perhaps the most important question to be pondered by the American people in some time. The path we follow will have repercussions for our children and grandchildren.

I take seriously Hezbollah terrorists who chant of “Death to America,” and Hezbollah’s patron President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran as he races to build nuclear weapons, and al Qaeda leadership who continue to threaten the U.S. Ignoring or failing to take seriously these threats is much the same as choosing to believe Adolf Hitler didn’t seriously intend to follow through on statements he made in the late 1930s, with one exception: The Third Reich’s leader didn’t have access to nuclear or biological weapons as al Qaeda or Hezbollah may soon have.

It is clear that radical Middle Eastern fundamentalists are testing and indeed trying to break U.S. resolve in Iraq and the region. Although that conflict is not what we originally intended when we decided to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein and his ruling Ba’ath Party from power, it is where we find ourselves today. Thus, our mission in Iraq — like in many conflicts — has shifted.

Our new challenge — defeating radicals who seek U.S. failure in Iraq and the surrounding region — is no less critical to our national security than ousting Saddam.

Al Qaeda’s leadership is heavily vested in the outcome of Iraq. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, advocates making Iraq the centerpiece of its strategic goal to establish radical Islamic regimes in the Middle East. Al Qaeda has already begun by focusing on consolidating power in the Sunni-dominated regions in Iraq.

Similarly, Iran continues to widen sectarian divisions in Iraq by training and equipping radical Shia elements that target coalition forces. The scope of Iran’s malfeasance has recently come to light in the press reports that U.S. forces have detained members of the Iranian Qods forces operating in Iraq.

The Qods are the arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps that operates outside Iran with the mission of spreading the Shia Revolution. This is the same radical group that was critical to the establishment of Hezbollah’s chokehold on Lebanon. With Iran’s backing, the Hezbollah terror organization sows instability and advances radicalism throughout the Levant.

The United States cannot afford to let al Qaeda succeed in Iraq, nor can we allow Iran to implant a surrogate Hezbollah-type organization and co-opt Iraq’s political system and security forces.

History is replete with examples of how withdrawing under fire fosters increased instability and leads to subsequent geopolitical crises. Recall how the U.S. withdrawal from Lebanon after the Marine Barracks bombing strengthened Hezbollah and contributed to six more years of civil war there. After a failed military operation in Mogadishu, we withdrew forces from Somalia, and now, a decade later, that country was until recently controlled by an Islamic militia with ties to al Qaeda. Today Somalia remains on the brink. I believe if we leave Iraq in chaos, the instability will reverberate throughout the region and across continents, with Americans feeling the effects in the forms of higher energy costs on our economy and emboldened terrorists around the world.

We need to learn from the mistakes of the past. Now is the moment when we need resolve and persistence. Now is the time when we are in a position to affect the situation in Iraq and foster a future of freedom and peace in the Middle East. More than 3,000 U.S. military personnel have made the ultimate sacrifice in this noble endeavor. Their sacrifice must be weighed in choosing the best direction to take.

The “fork in the road” before us is basically a point of decisionmaking. And it’s not an easy one: Disengage and cut our losses, but risk greatly empowering Iran and weakening our own future national security; or continue to strive to build an emerging, moderate Arab nation in the Middle East, while containing Iran and the radical Islamic terrorists it supports.

The first is the faster and easier of the two choices. And while politically popular today to some, it may not be wiser than the road which holds higher hopes for a tomorrow of peace and stability in the Middle East and will go farther in protecting our own national security here at home. Sometimes the faster path is not the better path for long-term national and international security at home or abroad.

Rep. Jim Saxton, New Jersey Republican, is a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and founder and senior member of the House Terrorism and Unconventional Threats Subcommittee.

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