- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate got an opportunity to give the enemy in Iraq just what it would love to have: a timetable for withdrawal of American forces there.

Saddam’s holdouts and their terrorist allies could know just when to launch their big offensive against Iraq’s new government without fear it would be crushed by U.S. forces.

In our time, it is necessary to point out the folly of such a move. If you’re in any doubt about that, think of the repercussions if the U.S. Senate adopted such an amendment when Allied fortunes were at a low ebb in World War II, say in 1942, when there was one defeat after another.

Suppose the senators had solemnly assured the Axis our goal was to be out of the war by Dec. 31, 1943. Or whenever our casualties exceeded a certain number. Imagine the incentive such a resolution, or sign of irresolution, would have given the enemy to hold out until then. Just as this demand for a timetable to govern our withdrawal from the field would be welcomed by our foes in Iraq. The message would be clear: America’s will is weakening.

None of this seemed to bother the 40 senators who backed this amendment by Michigan’s Carl Levin.

Let it be noted gratefully that not every Democrat in the Senate joined him. Five Democrats voted against his bright idea: North Dakota’s Kent Conrad, Connecticut’s Joseph Lieberman, Florida’s Bill Nelson, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor, who did their party proud.

Mr. Pryor said such a timetable amounted to “telegraphing our intentions to the bad guys.” Only one Republican, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, thought it would be dandy to let Zarqawi & Co. know just when we plan to throw in the towel.

Actually, the president and commander in chief has already announced when U.S. troops will leave: when victory is won. Seems a good timetable to me. Any other invites defeat.

This country and its allies are in a long struggle against a fanatical ideology that, like fascism and communism, is only encouraged by any sign of weakness on the part of the free.

And in war, as a Gen. Douglas MacArthur once said, there is no substitute for victory. Not retreat, not wild charges, not yielding to the temptation to exploit a war’s terrible cost for political gain, and certainly not a timetable short of victory.

A word for Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and leader in war and peace, and, oh, yes, a war hero. Of course Mr. McCain would not vote for Carl Levin’s proposal to give the enemy in Iraq our plans for an “exit strategy,” the current euphemism for bugging out. The senator well knows the effect of such an announcement, and it wouldn’t be good.

Even proposing such a timetable is less than useful. (Suppose we were told the new Iraqi government had just agreed to continue fighting the war, but only by a 58-40 vote.)

Also on the floor was a watered-down Republican alternative to Mr. Levin’s proposal. It said something about having the administration make quarterly reports to Congress on the war’s conduct. Like a corporation filing an earnings report?

It was such a meaningless proposition that of course it was adopted — 79-19. (You know any amendment platitudinous enough to be adopted 79-19 won’t inconvenience anyone.)

And yet Mr. McCain also voted against this bit of mush. He refused to make even an empty gesture that might encourage the enemy to believe America’s will was weakening.

As this long war grows longer, surely many another equally mischievous proposal will be introduced. This is just the start of what could become the kind of congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War that so bedeviled Abraham Lincoln during another war as members of Congress second-guessed Union strategy in every major battle from Bull Run to Petersburg.

That single congressional committee must have been worth a whole division to the Confederacy. The committee was most active when Northern dissatisfaction with the war was greatest.

No doubt many a mistake has been made in this war, too —the memoirs and critiques begin piling up — but this administration’s greatest lapse may be its neglect of the home front, as if public support could be taken for granted.

But of late the president and vice president have begun swinging back at critics. They need to continue. The most important front in any war is the home front. Lose the battle at home, and the war itself will be lost.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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