- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

Let’s say President Bush did not veto legislation yanking U.S. troops out of Iraq on a retreat timeline and there were no later negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders and let’s say all 146,000 have been back home several years. Now, let’s make some educated guesses about what has happened.

First off, the Iraqi government collapsed, and not because the people in it weren’t serious about finding solutions that also would save their own lives. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, the prospect of being assassinated concentrates the mind wonderfully.

No, they wanted to live and to safeguard the nation’s gains by quelling sectarian conflict and building an ever-more-powerful security force. They did not have time. Just as it was making progress, the U.S. military began packing up.

To be sure, the progress wasn’t nearly as noticeable as the setbacks, which were literally exploding in Baghdad and figuratively exploding in headlines.

As commanding Gen. David Petraeus said at a Pentagon briefing for reporters, coalition and Iraqi forces had to try to protect “everything” while suicide bombers could attack just “one thing.” They could thereby get away with “sensational attacks” that were “psychologically damaging” on top of the deaths inflicted on the innocent.

But, Gen. Petraeus said, coalition success over the previous two months had included “killing the security emir of eastern Anbar Province, detaining a number of key network leaders, discovering how various elements of al Qaeda [in] Iraq operate, taking apart a car-bomb network that had killed 650 citizens of Baghdad, and destroying several significant bomb factories.”

Al Qaeda and foreign fighters had become the chief if not the only problem, and Iraqi-coalition forces had been capturing many of them and killing their leaders.

Confirmation of advances came from an April 26, 2007, Page One New York Times story, which said, “Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat.”

Not enough could be done in the months left to Gen. Petraeus, however, for the terrorists, insurgents and foreign fighters had a powerful ally abetting their evil cause: the withdrawal deadlines set mainly by Democrats.

The troops came home and then, slowly at first, but faster over the next year and more, the stomach-churning genocide began, including the brutal murders of most of those in any way associated with the scattered Iraqi government. Events unfolded much as Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and others had predicted.

The Sunnis fought for a return to power, while Shi’ite forces aimed to establish ayatollah rule aligned with Iran. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and others intervened in the most dangerous, bloody mess in Middle East history.

Eventually, the Shi’ites won and established Iraq as a sanctuary for terrorists and a repository of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Radical Islamists felt empowered as never before, and believed justifiably they had won a major battle in their jihad to establish an Islamic theocracy throughout the world.

Just as Gen. Petraeus could not guard against every attack in Baghdad, law-enforcement agents could not guard against every possible attack in the United States. All of a sudden, the horror came full force; it seemed as if every few weeks there was another September 11, some smaller in death toll, some as bad or worse.

Hitting back? Who do you hit if you can’t prove a nation-state caused your misery? But then, finally, we did invade Iraq again at far more cost in lives and treasure than if we had finished the mission the right way the first time.

When the troops first started coming home in 2007, the Democrats had their critics — those who wanted to give the “surge” strategy more of a chance, and others who had no faith in that policy but recommended various other ideas. Simply addressing present troubles without regard for future risk is irresponsible, they said.

Oh well, critics be hanged. The Democrats got what they wanted in this imagined scenario. In 2008, before the consequences of their actions had become inescapably apparent, their party’s candidate won the presidential election.

Jay Ambrose is the former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.

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