- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2007

No matter how the war in Iraq is resolved and because of the parallels to the Vietnam War, it is time for our country to consider how it will defend itself. In both Vietnam and Iraq, our military might was unquestioned, but our leaders took for granted that Americans would support the war for as long as necessary. That was simply not the case.

Our government leaders and our military, therefore, need to learn how to function in a world where World War II clarity may never again be seen.

In both wars our enemies have taken full advantage of our lack of resolve to win. To be sure, the short shelf life of support at home can be attributed to the fact the original reason for our involvement was seen as questionable at best. But our elected leaders and their political opposition made matters worse and defeat almost inevitable. Our military was left to fight without the national support it needed.

There is plenty of blame on both sides today. For reasons unexplained, President Bush did too little to win the support of his country to fight a new and brutal enemy. He wasted his “political capital” long ago, and today, when the stakes could not be higher, he cannot expect America’s support for his surge plan.

The Democrats also bear plenty of responsibility… for politicizing a foreign policy debate that should have stopped at our shoreline. Their well-intended but unrestrained, emotional, often hyperbolic effort to prove the president wrong on Iraq will help defeat us as surely as a setback on the battlefield. After the president finally presented a plan that seemed to have all the elements his critics have demanded — contrition, limits to our support for the Iraqis, focus on forcing the Iraqis to want freedom for themselves and the quiet in Baghdad that may enable a political solution — the Democrats essentially are saying all is lost. Terrorists around the world can only be encouraged that nothing can stop them now. If only our leaders on both sides had instead sought middle ground long ago for the good of our nation.

This effort to prove Mr. Bush wrong has had effects overseas too. If we do not respect our leaders, how can we expect others to do so? The entire Western world could fall victim to terrorism if it continues to leave the fight to us. Global partisanship may make people feel good for a while but it encourages more terror and discourages moderate Muslims who oppose the hijacking of their religion. Anti-Americanism serves our enemies well.

Neither side on this debate has earned the right to be confident of anything. Calling war critics names and questioning their patriotism added fuel to the fire, but highly partisan statements by the Democrats have done much damage too. Perhaps as a result of the lessons learned from the Vietnam war, critics today are a little more careful with their words. So, they say, “We support the troops, but we should never have gone there” and “We support the troops, but the commander in chief is a liar.” Neither statement really supports the troops.

Soon we may see a vote in Congress that says, “We can’t stop the surge plan, but we don’t support it.” All such statements demoralize the troops, devalue their sacrifices, and embolden the enemy to kill them. This will surely have a lifelong effect on our Iraqi war veterans. The authors have not forgotten the pain Americans inflicted on Vietnam era veterans by blaming them for the war itself. Make no mistake — like our Vietnam war veterans, our Iraq war veterans will never forget the lack of commitment to prevail should we lose this war.

Debating whether we should have gone into Iraq or not does no good today. But responsibly considering the consequences of what we do now does. “Peace now” will not stop the killing of other human beings. Our new enemy feels free to violate every norm and rule of war, despite the higher standards we advocate. Leaving the Iraqis to kill each other will not end chants of “Death to America.” We will continue to lose lives and be thwarted by their inhumane tactics, as the Israelis have learned in Lebanon, unless we focus on the threat — not elections.

It is tragic that where we are today was foreseeable. The president repeatedly said he knew what he was doing and that he was the “decider.” That is not a strategy for winning hearts and minds at home.

Had Mr. Bush reached out to his critics and consistently invited their help in fighting this war, instead of dismissing them, perhaps he would have won the unity this country needed all along.

Equally tragically, his Democratic opposition, perhaps out of partisan payback, is making unity equally impossible and a defeat in Iraq almost an objective. Their glossing over the consequences of what they advocate is truly irresponsible.

After the 2006 election, there should have been more willingness to consider what abandoning Iraq means. Do Democrats, for example, have a plan to ensure the safety of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi drivers, translators, policemen, teachers, government workers, businessmen and others who will be beheaded if left behind? Someone needs to answer such questions.

If the Democrats feel such carnage is all right because it is a civil war and not worth risking one American life, they should stand up and say so. Vilifying the president’s plan before it was presented and offering murky alternatives was not the mandate U.S. voters intended by the last election.

As it turns out, both warring factions (in America) privately agree we cannot afford to lose. So, why not not lose? Maybe the president’s plan could form the basis of a reasonable effort to give the Iraqis the time, resources and incentives for reaching an internal political solution, as well as the consequences of not doing so.

Maybe the president and the Democrats should swallow their pride, tone this debate down and demonstrate what Americans have wanted long before the 2006 election: unity of purpose. Our final thrust need not be open-ended or an attempt at an illusive military victory, and failure still might result. If so, we can hope that history will conclude the Iraqis ultimately lost the war to their sectarian demons and that we didn’t lose it for them.

The only thing in this war radical Islamists have to fear is American bipartisanship. Whether in support of the president’s surge plan or some bipartisan compromise, we must for once act as one to ensure that murdering civilians is not the weapon of the 21st century. That, ironically, is the “weapon of mass destruction” we did find in Iraq.

We must give our troops what they have needed all along: the will to win something worth winning. As one candidate for president in 2008 recently said, “I would rather lose an election than lose a war.” He gets it and, had he been our president, he would have had the country behind him or he wouldn’t have taken our country to war. That his potential challengers try to tie him to today’s situation in Iraq reveals just how shortsighted, unprincipled and destructive our politics are at this time of grave danger.

We do not want to see brothers of the fallen from this war grieve decades later for their losses because our politicians found their own agendas more important than America’s best interests.

A good start would be for our politicians to recognize the mess they have collectively created and get to work fixing it. This would be the Islamist’s greatest fear.

Robert Brudno is a management consultant in Washington, D.C. James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times. The authors are both veterans who lost brothers to the Vietnam War, a war that divided our nation and, by so doing, deepened their personal loss at the negative outcome of that war. The foregoing is their appeal for unity.

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