- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2005

“Stop the world, I want to get off” was the title of a once popular theatrical comedy. Today, it seems to be the mantra of Sen. Teddy Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and others who demand the United States have an “exit strategy” from Iraq. Mr. Kennedy has even announced its first step should be the immediate withdrawal of 12,000 troops.

The problem is, exit to where? The truth is, whether we like it or not, the United States cannot exit the global war waged against us by Islamofascist terrorists and their allies, any more than we can stop the world and get off it.

In fact, were America actually to heed the siren’s call — issued by Mr. Kennedy before Sunday’s remarkable election in Iraq made doing so, at least for the moment, unimaginable — and retreat from the Iraqi front in that war, it would simply assure we will fight these enemies far closer to home and, indeed, in all likelihood here.

Let’s be clear: The discredited Left, epitomized by Mr. Kennedy, proposes a reprise of their cut-and-run exit strategy in Vietnam. Just leave and if somebody else wants to take over — say, the United Nations — so be it.

But, whether the U.N. or anybody else is willing and able to help secure and stabilize Iraq, according to this view, is not our concern. We simply no longer have the stomach for the effort to which a far greater Kennedy, President John F., and his incumbent successor have pledged our national prestige and resources: Standing with those who seek freedom and against their oppressors. The lesser Mr. Kennedy seems fully prepared to cut our losses and have the devil (or at least a Saddamlike version of him) take the hindmost.

More sophisticated and putatively more responsible would-be exiters (including some oft-quoted Republican ones) are not prepared, for the moment, to demand immediate withdrawal of American forces. Yet, they provide political cover for those who do by suggesting that leaving on some timetable governed not by the situation on the ground but by our desire to be done with Iraq is morally defensible and strategically sound.

Both strains of exit strategists are taking heart from opinion polls suggesting that growing numbers of Americans are similarly minded. While their campaign may be temporarily set back by the Jan. 30 elections’ dramatic affirmation of the Iraqi people’s desire to be free, the exiters seem to hope continuing violence there will inexorably translate popular weariness and frustration here into irresistible pressure for withdrawal of our forces. For some at least, the fact the nation would thus suffer an epic strategic defeat is less important than is their ambition to deal Mr. Bush a politically crippling one.

Again the question recurs: Withdraw to where? An American rout in Iraq is unlikely to inspire confidence about the desirability of hosting U.S. forces elsewhere in the region. The logic of the terrorists in Iraq — namely, that foreign nationals can be taken hostage and/or executed to euchre their governments’ disassociation from the United States, a logic first shamefully affirmed by Spain’s socialist government — will surely be applied in any Gulf States that considers having us.

Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian and assertive Russia is unlikely to feel as constrained as in the past to countenance a sizable American military footprint in its “near- abroad.” For its part, Communist China is already exerting economic and political pressure to assert its dominance over East Asia. Will any of the PRC’s neighbors want to invite Beijing’s displeasure, especially when even what have traditionally been seen as tangible American security guarantees — troops on the ground — have been devalued by the demonstration in Iraq of U.S. unreliability when the going gets tough?

Of course, we could always bring the troops home, to their pleasure and that of their families. But afterward, it is a reasonable bet recent talk of increasing the size and combat power of our ground forces will disappear as the exiteers revert to form, arguing the defense budget must help cut the deficit.

The deplenished U.S. military capabilities that ensue have historically emboldened our adversaries. This is especially likely to be so when convictions about the superiority of their ideology (which masquerades as a religion) have seemingly been powerfully affirmed by essentially a U.S. defeat in Iraq.

In short, the exit from Iraq on any basis other than victory is sure to open the door to war in another theater — our own. There, we will find ourselves fighting where we least want to, on American soil, trying to protect targets vastly more susceptible to attack and with far more devastating consequences than any of those we abhor in Iraq.

Does this mean U.S. forces must remain indefinitely at their current levels in Iraq? Of course it doesn’t.

What it does mean is that making decisions about the force levels and their role in the Battle of Iraq on any basis other than what conduces to stability and security for the Iraqi people will prove a far greater disaster than Mr. Kennedy perceives today. For the real “quagmire” of our time is the one we would be in if we abandon Iraq with our tails between our legs and, thereby, enable the jihadists and their friends to fight us here, where we truly have no exit.

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

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