- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In recent days, the people of the United States have received two messages from afar — both involving the front known euphemistically as the “War in Iraq.” The two messages offer Americans starkly different visions of our future and should be considered with care.

One is the report by Army Gen. David Petraeus, our senior commander in Iraq. At this writing, its thrust is known from a letter sent to his troops by their commanding officer. The text of his report has not yet been made public.

The second is the videotape released last week by Osama bin Laden, leader of the Islamofascist terrorist group, al Qaeda. It features the Saudi in his usual pose, reading from a script in a meandering, yet menacing fashion.

The central thrust of the general’s report can be described this way: It is a message of resolve, determination and courage in the face of adversity. It recognizes all is not satisfactory, let alone well, in his theater of operations. Yet, the Petraeus assessment makes clear there is progress in providing the security in Iraq that is a prerequisite for the sort of political evolution that will ultimately determine whether the Iraqis can enjoy a future of peace and prosperity, or are condemned to continued conflict and/or renewed despotism.

The central thrust of the bin Laden tape is, by contrast, a message of defeatism: America’s defeat in Iraq is inevitable. The sooner it cuts its losses, the better for all involved. He cites a litany of other ills facing this country, including the impact of the collapse of the subprime lending market on the U.S. economy, as further reason to have no faith in our leaders.

Unfortunately, some of those leaders have launched pre-emptive attacks against the message conveyed by Gen. Petraeus. They have engineered a series of reports from others, including the Government Accountability Office and an independent commission led by retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, in the hope of bracketing our commander’s relatively positive report with more evidence of bad news.

Some have gone so far as trying, figuratively, to “shoot the messenger.” Gen. Petraeus’ integrity and loyalty have been besmirched. Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, actually called his submission the “Bush-Petraeus” report. The obvious intent: Discredit the objectivity — and, therefore, the political significance — of a distinguished military officer’s analysis by implying he is really not its author, just a shill for a hated president and his administration.

In fact, the second message might more accurately be called the Democrat-bin Laden perspective. After all, the criticism served up by the terrorist leader was clearly drawn by his propagandists — at least in part — from the sorts of talking points used by American opponents of the conflict in Iraq.

To be sure, Democrats in Congress may not have appreciated bin Laden’s criticism leveled at them for not doing more to end the U.S. role in Iraq. But at least they should recognize that critique as it is coming, first and foremost, from their radical base. For that matter, it is frequently echoed even by some of their own officeholders, frustrated by the party’s inability to command the necessary cloture-imposing and veto-proof majorities on Capitol Hill.

The question now is: Which of these two messages will most influence the American people? Will it be the argument that the United States cannot safely relinquish Iraq to its enemies in this War for the Free World — affording them a safe-haven and a base of operations of vastly greater strategic significance than Afghanistan under the Taliban ever was? These considerations lay at the heart of the decision (lest we forget, supported overwhelmingly and on a bipartisan basis) to liberate Iraq in the first place, thus denying terrorists a sanctuary with vast oil resources, a strategic location and a technology base and industrial capacity affording access to weapons of mass destruction.

Or must we surrender Iraq to such enemies? Of course, the latter choice will be dressed up as a “strategic redeployment,” clearing the way for what is promised to be a more determined and successful effort to go after al Qaeda elsewhere, notably in Afghanistan and perhaps in Pakistan.

Whatever Democrats (and a few Republicans) may call it, however, the second choice is the one favored by Osama bin Laden. It would be, as he has called it, a defeat for the United States Far from being the end of the fight with Islamofascists like him and his enablers, such a choice would simply embolden them and result in an accelerated, global metastasizing of the struggle against their ilk.

My bet is the American people are not prepared to surrender in Iraq. As they hear a formidable military commander explain the counter-insurgency strategy he developed and is now implementing with considerable, and growing, effect, they will agree with his recommendation: The surge is making a difference and the effort and expenses required for it to make a sustained contribution to our security are justified.

Certainly, the issue could not be more starkly framed. Fight this enemy wherever we find them — and they happen to be concentrated in Iraq and fighting furiously to secure it for their cause? Or give bin Laden what he wants in Mesopotamia and hope that he doesn’t mean the rest of his screed about forcing our national conversion to Islam or destroying us? It’s time to choose.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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