- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

Without question, mistakes have been made in Iraq; nobody can deny that. However, that is no excuse for exiting Iraq before the job is done, which can only lead to further unrest and instability in the region, and, ultimately, a higher cost to the United States down the road. Our new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has formulated a comprehensive, inventive new strategy to bring stability there. Our troops have set about implementing it, and early indications are that they are meeting with success.

The deployment of additional U.S. troops to reinforce and help those already in Iraq is an integral part of the new plan. Yet, the left — including many members of the new Democratic majority in Congress — and other Bush-haters have chosen to describe the new strategy as just another “escalation” and have doomed it to failure. In so doing, the congressional Democrats seem guided not by what is best for our nation and its security, but by what will best position them to maintain their newfound congressional majority, advance individual political ambitions, and satisfy left-wing groups like MoveOn.org.

Our congressional leaders and 2008 presidential candidates should be giving every measure of their support to the new strategy for Iraq and especially those implementing it on the ground, instead of taking political cheap shots at President Bush. Then they should hope and pray for the new strategy to work, for it likely represents our last chance to fully succeed in Iraq.

Undoubtedly, the war in Iraq will continue to carry a hefty price tag, both in American lives and dollars, but a stable Iraq is the only acceptable outcome. Those who advocate prompt withdrawal or downsizing of our combat forces there are disappointingly shortsighted. They think only in terms of immediate gratification, not the long-term security of our nation. Clearly, our job in Iraq is not yet done. If we withdraw our military forces prematurely, we may save American lives and dollars in the short run, but the long-term consequences could be disastrous for our nation.

The stakes are high. If we leave Iraq in a state of instability and disarray, the situation will likely devolve into utter chaos. The resulting power vacuum would probably be filled by any one of a number of familiar enemies of the United States: Syria, Iran or Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia (of the same fanatical Wahhabi sect that produced Osama bin Laden). Just as Afghanistan served as a fertile breeding ground and safe haven for al Qaeda during the 1990s, Iraq could well become a new incubator for radical Islamic terrorists. Moreover, an unstable Iraq could potentially spawn future regional conflicts in which the United States would be forced to commit even larger numbers of troops and funding. As such, premature troop withdrawal is the wrong answer.

The new approach is far from guaranteed to work, but surely it is worth trying. Give this new and carefully designed strategy a chance. If for no other reason, do so for the troops implementing it on the ground in Iraq. They deserve every ounce of our support. Second-guessing our troops’ mission is demoralizing to them — this soldier can personally attest to that. While in Iraq last year, I attentively watched the television news in the mess hall and listened as the voices of the anti-war left sounded retreat, day after day. My heart sank as they continually undercut our troops’ mission in Iraq and readied the white flag.

I greatly feared that a major goal of our enemy — deflating U.S. public opinion on the war — was slowly being achieved, which would only help the insurgency build momentum. For our troops, living in a dusty, hostile place for months on end, away from friends and family (let alone dodging sniper rounds and roadside bombs, as some do every day) is difficult enough without having to hear that some think your mission there is a complete waste of time.

The new strategy in Iraq has a decent chance for success; its chances would be greatly improved if the new Democratic majority in Congress set its sights on victory in Iraq, instead of forcing our troops out before their mission is completed. Let’s not clip the wings on the new strategy in Iraq — which may be our last chance for true success there — before it even gets off the ground.

David R. Hanke, a former active-duty officer in the U.S. Army, served in Iraq as an attorney and captain with the 101st Airborne Division in 2005-2006.

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