Friday, June 13, 2008

Now that Sen. Barack Obama has won the race to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States, he has already announced that he has made a political decision with regard to our forces in Iraq.

While he states that he recognizes the success our combat troops have achieved under the surge strategy, he has to look at Iraq from a broader strategic objective. Accordingly, he has made a political decision to withdraw our combat forces in Iraq within a specific time frame if elected president.

Some think that by withdrawing our combat forces we may improve America’s image. This goes back to the immature thinking of the Carter regime not understanding the threat posed by the Islamic fundamentalist regime of Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran. The impact of withdrawing our forces can only give encouragement to the still-dangerous al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), as well as the Iranians who continue to use Shi’ite militias as proxies to fight U.S. and Iraqi forces. Further, we will have undercut the political groups, clans and tribal leaders who have aligned themselves with us. Every faction will be hedging their bets.

An American retreat now would send the signal that all you have to do is wait us out and we will cut and run. We will have raised the “white flag” of surrender. It seems like we never learn from history. When we failed to respond to the takeover of our embassy in Tehran in November 1979, it was seen by the rogue Khomeini regime as a sign of weakness and ineptness. We were a paper tiger. We failed to respond to the U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut Oct. 23, 1983, and subsequently withdrew our forces from Lebanon. It was read as another sign of weakness by Osama bin Laden, who stated that when the U.S. is faced with losses, it will lose resolve.

The situation in Iraq has changed dramatically in the last several months. Even the most severe critics have to concede that the surge strategy has achieved significant success under the innovative leadership of Gen. David Petraeus. The last of the surge forces are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of July. According to Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, who is the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, after a “pause,” further combat troop drawdown may be possible. However, he said while we have the AQI on the run and mostly confined to the Mosul area, they still represent the most significant military threat remaining in Iraq. Continuing Iranian support of Shi’ite militias through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (Quds Force) is another destabilizing element that must be defeated.

Two political issues that need to be resolved in Iraq are a “status-of-forces agreement” on the rights and responsibilities of U.S. troops in Iraq, and a strategic framework on the future U.S.-Iraqi security and political relationship. It must be remembered that when U.S. forces overthrew the Hussein regime, we assumed the role of blocking Iran’s expansion ambitions in that region. Therefore, it should be no surprise, as reported by U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, that Iran continues to support Shi’ite militias and promote Iraqi opposition to the domestic political accords.

Candidate Obama’s “broader strategic objective,” the unilateral withdrawal of our forces from Iraq, does not solve the larger Islamic fundamentalist agenda, which is to destroy western democracies. By now, the Democratic candidate should know Europe has already been penetrated to a significant degree. He should be aware that in the United Kingdom we are seeing second and third generations of natural-born British citizens taking up the al Qaeda cause. He should not forget that Osama bin Laden has declared Iraq to be the primary battleground for defeating U.S. forces. Setting a date for the unilateral withdrawal of our combat forces can only give resurgence to the Islamic fundamentalist agenda.

AQI must be thoroughly defeated in Iraq. We can then deal with the Iranian threat and their nuclear weapons program from a position of strength and respect. That goal should be Mr. Obama’s - and America’s - broader strategic objective.

James Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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