- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003

The statesmanship shown by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London as terrorist bombings, rebel ambushes and coalition raids rocked the Middle East from Turkey through Iraq to Afghanistan should shame into silence their fainthearted critics in politics, the media and the streets.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has unveiled a television commercial featuring the famous images of a flight-suited Mr. Bush on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln declaring an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1. The ad is meant to mock the triumphant capture of Baghdad and raise questions about the continuing violence, but instead it should raise questions about Mr. Kerry. As a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, Mr. Kerry should know the difference between the kind of major operations he took part in and the pin prick attacks now being made by Ba’athist remnants and Islamic terrorists. Instead, he would rather exploit a unwarranted sense of panic for personal gain.

The current level of violence in Iraq must be kept in perspective. It still does not constitute a military crisis or a threat to the coalition’s strategic position. As of this writing, more than 400 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed during the course of the Iraq campaign, which started on March 20. By any rational standard, the Iraq campaign has been one of the greatest — and least bloody — military success stories in history. By way of comparison, almost as many people have been killed in Washington and the surrounding metropolitan area this year as concern has been rising about increasing street gang activity.

In Vietnam, 58,000 Americans were killed in action during a war that was eventually lost. In Korea, 38,000 Americans were lost in a war that ended as a draw. Lack of victory left a legacy of tyranny and genocide in a communist-dominated postwar Southeast Asia. Millions died after “peace” had been imposed by triumphant communist armies. The region continues to languish in poverty and corruption. Only now are some reforms under way, but not enough to regain the promise that could have transformed society 30 years ago had Saigon prevailed over Hanoi rather than the reverse.

In North Korea, a half-mad despot still threatens world peace with the specter of nuclear weapons while letting his people starve. Having failed to adopt a strategy of decisive warfare leading to the removal of the brutal regimes in Pyongyang and Hanoi when the opportunity presented itself, the United States has suffered adverse strategic consequences for decades.

The liberation and reconstruction of Iraq offers the chance for a much better outcome at a much lower cost. American strategy did not hang back this time, but drove forward to Baghdad with the clear objective of removing the regime of Saddam Hussein. Not since the fall of Berlin and Tokyo in World War II has the United States been so successful.

Though President Truman did initially try to repeat this type of success in Korea by taking Pyongyang in 1950, the intervention by Chinese troops led the United States to settle for a stalemate and a divided Korean Peninsula where only the South came to enjoy prosperity and freedom.

Before Mao Tse-tung ordered Chinese troops to intervene in the Korean War, he advised his commanders that while the U.S. relied on air and naval forces for massive firepower, it was always short on infantry. Once U.S. forces moved inland, he thought they would be vulnerable.

This belief that the United States cannot stomach ground combat has given enemies from imperial Japan to al Qaeda the confidence to challenge U.S. power. Chinese strategists still argue that the United States lost both the Korean and Vietnam wars because of this weakness, and the reaction of the Clinton administration to the “Blackhawk Down” incident in Somalia boosted anti-American morale worldwide.

The September 11 terrorist assault on New York and Washington was predicated on the belief that a painful rap on the nose was all it would take to make the United States cut and run from the entire Middle East.

The behavior of many liberals and Democrats gives hope to the dreams of terrorists and other enemies of America. President Johnson panicked after the Tet Offensive, even though it was a major military defeat for the communists. He halted air strikes on North Vietnam and dropped his re-election bid. A Democratic Congress then cut aid to Saigon so drastically that its survival was impossible, while playing to anti-war protesters who waved the enemy flag and quoted the works of Mao.

President Jimmy Carter is best remembered for the post-Vietnam malaise at home and the disastrous sweep to power of the ayatollahs in Iran.

And today’s overstretched Army and reserve forces are the result of President Clinton’s defense cuts that have left the Bush Administration struggling to fight on multiple fronts with only 10 Army divisions. The last time the Army had only 10 divisions was just before the Korean War, when Mao was confident the United States could be beaten.

Mr. Bush has wisely chosen to go on the offensive in Iraq rather than retreat. Saddam’s legacy of mass graves warns of the kind of bloodbath that would ensue if a premature withdrawal of U.S. leadership allowed the forces of tyranny to return.

The White House needs to follow the same course in domestic politics. For 40 years, the Democrats have been the party of defeat in foreign policy, and they are again edging toward embracing failure in Iraq as party activists rally behind anti-war front-runner Howard Dean.

Americans need to realize that the lessons of history are very straight forward on this point. While victory in war has its costs, defeat is catastrophic.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation.

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