- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

Those in Congress who argue setting a deadline or a schedule for the “redeployment” of U.S. military forces from Iraq, based on the claim we must send the Iraqis a message about getting their security and political act together, should think further about how others will interpret this same “message.”

Clearly, we should take prudent steps to help and encourage Iraqi leaders to accelerate their efforts to secure their country so their government can function. However, sending this message by setting a timeframe for redeploying U.S. troops will only irreparably damage Iraq and harm future American generations.

Surely, there are others in addition to the Iraqis who will hear “the message.” Take, for example, the radicals who are associated with al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency. Certainly, they will hear “a message,” which will tell them Americans are tired of the war and U.S. leaders have voted to bring the troops home. In their eyes, all they will now have to do is wait for us to leave. This interpretation would only bolster those who understand full well they cannot defeat American military forces on the battlefield, but whose sole intention is to convince American decisionmakers that the war is not worth fighting in hopes their efforts will lead to U.S. troops leaving.

Likewise, the Iranians will hear “a message.” It will be similar to the one the current set of troublemakers in Iraq will hear. Bernard Lewis, the renowned Middle East expert from Princeton University, has concluded the following: “The way that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is talking now shows quite clearly his contempt for the Western world. … They feel they are dealing with, as Osama bin Laden put it, an effete, degenerate, pampered enemy incapable of real resistance.” The message sent by setting redeployment deadlines will certainly reinforce the belief that Mr. Ahmadinejad and bin Laden already harbor.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other American leaders work tirelessly to secure the help and assistance of Iraq’s neighbors, especially those with Sunni governments. Jordan and Kuwait have been extremely helpful. While others have not been as out-in-front, recent statements by officials from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates now strongly indicate that, under the right circumstances, they can be much more helpful too, but not if they hear “the message” we are pulling up stakes and going home.

Moreover, the feeling that the U.S. abandoned its Kurdish and Shi’ite allies in Iraq after the first Gulf war lingers to this day. We encouraged their rebellion against Saddam Hussein and left them with little support to defend against the harsh retribution that followed. More recently, al Qaeda front man Ayman al-Zawahri warned our Iraqi counterparts that “America… is about to depart and abandon them, just as it abandoned their like in Vietnam.” If we leave our Iraqi partners to fend for themselves against these groups that are only too glad to watch them suffer, we will be hard-pressed to gain the trust of our allies in the future.

Think also about “the message” this would send to our service members in Iraq. We have entrusted their lives to the leadership of Gen. David Petraeus and have a moral commitment to ensure he has the resources to execute the mission we have given him. That commitment does not “expire” in October 2008.

Gen. Petraeus forewarned troops more than a week ago that “success will take months” and they have many tough days ahead. It is important to ensure they have the commitment of this Congress to enable them to complete their mission unfettered by artificial deadlines imposed by Capitol Hill warriors. We carry that same moral obligation to the family members of our troops to illustrate their sacrifices have not been in vain. We owe this much to our “new Greatest Generation.”

Finally, it is critical that we consider “the message” the American people will hear. It seems the message that should be sent to the American people is that the threat posed by radical jihadists will not go away anytime soon, and that we must prepare, as a people, to deal with the very serious dangers associated with it over the long term. However, as a result of congressional efforts to set a timeline for redeployment, “the message” to Americans across the country instead will be that radical jihadists in Iraq and in other parts of the Middle East who were thought to be a danger to the U.S., must not have been so bad after all.

Perhaps those who would vote in Congress to set a deadline or any other maneuver aimed at limiting the ability of the White House and the Defense Department to manage this dangerous situation under the guise of sending a message to the Iraqi leadership will consider how others will receive and interpret their message.

The future stability of Iraq and America’s national security would be better served if, as a Congress, we sent one clear message regarding this war — that we will stand with our allies and partners until Iraq’s goals of unity and stability are realized.

Jim Saxton, New Jersey Republican, is a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and founder and senior member of the House Terrorism and Unconventional Threats Subcommittee.

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