- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

“Nitwitpundits andSunday morning television sages, withthat faked look of thoughtfulness which is their trademark, talk about an exit strategy — as if it were just one more map quest printout. But any such exit strategy will lead us only on a short path to hell.”

So writes Tony Blankley, editorial editor at The Washington Times, adding, “The essential strategic element in war is to defeat the enemy’s will to win, and accepting anything less than triumph in Iraq will catastrophically embolden the terrorists.”

Mr. Blankley raises valid and grave questions. He is saying that, no matter where one stood on going to war, we went. Now, anyone who thinks we can swiftly exit Iraq without paying a hellish price is a nitwit.

Mr. Blankley is right. Should America pull out now, our enemies across the Islamic world will indeed be emboldened. The perception of American defeat could produce a domino effect running down through the sheikdoms of the Gulf into Saudi Arabia and spreading across the region. Iraq could dissolve into chaos and civil war.

All this is possible. Indeed, the possibility that Iraq could become a giant Lebanon for the United States was among the reasons some of us implored the president not to send our army up the Euphrates Valley to occupy a city that was the seat of the caliphate for 500 years. But if there are risks to a too-rapid transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, there are risks to escalating this war. Query: When Osama bin Laden sees Sunnis rising up to fight Americans from Fallujah to Baghdad and Shi’ites taking up arms in Karbala and Najaf and marching against America in Beirut in the hundreds of thousands, is he not rejoicing that we took the bait and invaded Iraq? Has not the invasion enlarged the recruiting pool for anti-American terrorism?

In the war on terror, a critical objective was to isolate Osama as a mass murderer who did not represent Islam. Osama’s goal was to embed himself in the Arab and Islamist causes of expelling the infidel Americans from the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia and ending what he denounced as our persecution of the oppressed Iraqi people.

Osama sought to conflate his war with the Arab cause. It was in our interest to keep them separate. But the invasion of Iraq — an attack on an Arab country that did not attack us and did not want war with us — united and aroused the Arab world against us, and with bin Laden.

And just as those who argue for an accelerated withdrawal must face up to the risks, those who favor escalation must consider the risks of trying to attain a political objective that appears to be receding before our eyes.

If victory means a pro-Western democracy in Iraq that embraces American values, what is the likelihood of achieving that now, given the raging hostility in the Sunni and Shi’ite sectors? Are we closer to the goal than we were 13 months ago? Or has the fighting of April and May and the moral squalor of Abu Ghraib pushed our goal even further away?

What will be the final cost in blood and treasure of ultimate victory? How lasting will victory be once our troops depart, as one day they must? Will the American people — who read polls where 57 percent of the Iraqis want us out, more than half think killing our soldiers is justified, and every lethal attack on a U.S. vehicle brings out a mob in wild celebration — continue to feel Iraqi democracy is worth Americans dying for?

As Terry Jeffrey, columnist for The Washington Times, writes, idealists may dream of a democratic, secular and pro-Western Iraq, but traditionalists would settle for an Iraq that has no weapons of mass destruction, does not invade its neighbors and does not collude with terrorists.

Horrible as the monster was, Saddam Hussein, after his rout in the Gulf War, came close to filling the bill. That is why some of us did not believe it was vital to our security to invade and dethrone him. A nuclear North Korea or nuclear-armed Pakistan where President Musharraf has been taken down by some assassin seemed far the graver potential threat.

Still, Mr. Blankley has this point: Whether we go, or stay and fight on, we are going to pay a heavy price because we went.

Neville Chamberlain is forever condemned for capitulating at Munich. Rightly so. But by the time he got to Munich, Chamberlain had no good choices left. His country had lost Italy in the Abyssinian crisis, failed to rearm, failed to stop Hitler when Britain and France could have chased him out of the Rhineland in 1936. By late September 1939, they could no longer stop Hitler in Central Europe without a European war.

No good options were left. Chamberlain could cede the Sudetenland — or declare war to rescue a Czechoslovakia Britain lacked the power to save. Conclusion: Chamberlain never should have gone to Munich — and President Bush never should have gone to Baghdad.

Patrick J. Buchanan is a former candidate for president and a television commentator.

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