- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2005

The president gave us an inspiring and timely speech at the U.S. Naval Academy Wednesday, emphasizing the need to “complete the mission” and achieve “victory in Iraq.”

The speech was also very important because defining the mission in Iraq also defines the force levels necessary to achieve victory. And Tuesday the president also issued a 35-page document, “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” a strong beginning step in achieving that goal.

The new document says, “Victory in Iraq is a vital U.S. interest” because “Iraq is the central front on the global war on terror,” and perhaps even more important: “The fate of the greater Middle East — which will have a profound and lasting impact on American security — hangs in the balance.”

We didn’t begin our role in Iraq with such clear strategic vision: The “mission” or strategic reason we went into Iraq was the belief Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It turned out, he didn’t. While there is unending political debate from the left on this retrospection, most Americans understand that the real possibility of WMD in the hands of Saddam was such an unacceptable risk it didn’t make much difference.

In other words: Because we simply couldn’t afford to make a mistake about WMD in Iraq, it was probably all right we did so.



And, we clearly had enough troops in Iraq to address that threat: In fact, I wrote in Commentary at the time that we should just knock down Saddam, knock down the WMD infrastructure, and leave — allowing the warring factions to tear themselves to pieces. I also argued, however, that our threshold for taking down a dangerous successor regime in Iraq should be pretty low.

We didn’t do this — we stayed, a huge insurgency developed — and we are now “democratizing” Iraq. However, the insurgency opposing this is very robust, growing in ferocity and shows no sign of letting up, despite democratization’s political successes.

So, what we have accomplished? The original purpose met with success, even if there was no WMD; democratization has seen some notable success but the insurgency seems to have fought it to a draw, And it’s clear if we leave Iraq soon the insurgents would take over quickly — not only that, but it is very likely some kind of terrorist state or refuge would emerge.

But what if there was — and is — a far more compelling strategic reason we went into Iraq and have stayed there, one that wasn’t very well articulated until the president’s new strategy was released this week? The idea is that “the fate of the Middle East — which [has] a profound and lasting impact on American security — hangs in the balance.”

There’s another, perhaps even better, way to say this: “Forcefully countering the influence of violently anti-American Islamic fundamentalists in the Arab Middle East,” was suggested recently by Nicholas Lehmann.

In fact, the president’s recent speeches have spoken of this strategic concept, in the context of the need to oppose persistent and increasingly dangerous threats from “Islamofascism” and the like.

If this is the strategic case for staying in Iraq, the administration must make it far more effectively than they have so far. Why? It’s an extremely persuasive and compelling case most Americans would probably agree with and support — assuming it was better articulated and understood.

But this “new” strategy simply cannot be carried out with the forces we now have on the ground in Iraq. And those who have all along argued for more troops will be right, albeit for different reasons than they may have had originally.

The bottom line: If the “real” reason for the Iraq war was to depose Saddam and neutralize the WMD threat, we’ve done it; if the “real” reason was to democratize Iraq, we may not be able to do it — even with present troop levels — because of the growing insurgency.

However, if the “real” strategic reason for being in Iraq is “forcefully countering the influence of violently anti-American Islamic fundamentalists in the Arab Middle East,” the administration must make this case more persuasively to the Congress and the people and increase substantially our ground forces in Iraq.

Daniel Gallington is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va.

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