"Is there not a moral obligation of the United States to make sure that the Iraqi people are safe before the U.S. withdraws?" ABC News' Jake Tapper asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday. As Mr. Tapper summarized the exchange, "I tried to get an answer... I did not succeed."
Mr. Reid's response to this very reasonable question was to dodge here, dodge there, and never answer directly. He cited Iraqi opinion polls showing that 69 percent of Iraqis feel less safe because of the U.S. presence. He cited the war's cost of many billions and the 600 dead Americans in the last six months. "That's enough," Mr. Reid said. "With all due respect, Senator, you didn't answer my question," responded Mr. Tapper. Mr. Reid's final response: "OK. This is not a debate." Indeed, real debate is the last thing Mr. Reid and the growing pro-withdrawal caucus wants.
Those now calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq have moral responsibilities. They must demonstrate that withdrawal makes the United States safer. They have not. They must show that a slaughter of epic proportions will not follow. They have not. They must show that an al Qaeda statelet and Iranian satellite will not result. Again, they have not.
They must, in a word, have a plan. But they are entrapped in bygone arguments concerning what the Bush administration should or should not have done two, three or four years ago. They are caught up in the tradewinds of understandable public frustration with the Iraq war, and so they do not focus on what makes sense today. If they prevail, we will all rue it.
Right now they have no plan. They have not even attempted to make the necessary strategic arguments and they have ignored the humanitarian imperatives. Any erstwhile voice of compassion for Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and the host of post-Cold War tragedies should be ashamed if their preference for Iraq today risks what Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who should know, fears will be a bloodbath if and when U.S. forces leave precipitously.
They have war fatigue in their favor; they have emotional appeals that grip the country; they have public opinion; they have a strong and favorable political wind at their backs. What they lack is any compelling rationale for the precipice over which they seek to push Iraq. Congress, do not turn a bloody and difficult stalemate in Iraq into an even bloodier, still more dangerous strategic catastrophe.
President Bush yesterday sounded many familiar notes concerning the dangers of withdrawal, notes that are simple but need restating: Withdrawal hands al Qaeda a major victory and imperils us all. "People will begin to wonder about America's resolve," Mr. Bush said. "Al Qaeda will certainly be in a better position to raise money and recruit" if the United States leaves. In sum: "The strategy has got to be to help this government become an ally" against terrorists — a self-sustaining ally. We were also pleased to hear Mr. Bush sound a note about war fatigue. The public is in fact fatigued with Iraq. Insofar as they see the president understand this but remain resolute, that is to the good.
There is a moral obligation to think rationally and morally about the consequences of withdrawal from Iraq. We still do not see it happening.