December 12, 2006

Don't Give in to Defeat in Iraq

By Jed Babbin
Real Clear Politics

Winston Churchill's black dog is back. It visited him often, depressing him but never forcing him to give in. The black dog lives in a darkened chamber that some now would push us into. We walked into it on the path out of Vietnam, and were trapped in it for years. It's the same darkened room: too little light to see anything clearly, but just enough to see the outlines of objects. The black dog is there, growling, circling, ready to gnaw on our character and resolve. We know that once we're in, there's no way out because the walls are smooth, there are no windows and there's no doorknob to grab. This is the cell Defeat lives in.

Those of us of a certain age remember it well. When last we entered the cell it was 1975, and the black dog was just a puppy, big enough only to bite our ankles. We came out when Ronald Reagan opened the door in 1980. Standing at the threshold now, we can sense that the black dog has grown. Now it may be able to knock us down, and the friends that will be shoved into the room behind us may be killed by it. There's no Reagan coming down the hall behind us. If we go in, we're going to be trapped in the room for a long time. Please, Mr. Bush. Don't push us through this door.

A predictable few, such as the New York Times's Frank Rich, think we're already locked in the room. They take joy in their conclusion, that George Bush's war was wrong from the start and that it is lost. We'll never win, the enemy is too strong, our allies are too weak, our cause is unjust, we've wasted our troops' lives, it's a shambles, the only answer is to get out and to hell with the consequences. Our only possible objective now, as the NYT and the Baker-Hamilton ISG would have it, is to get us out of Iraq in whatever semblance of order our enemies may permit. The Baker gang is saying what Kissinger said in 1973: we can have peace with honor, and resolve the war by bargaining from weakness. If we go down this path, Saddam Hussein may again be president of Iraq by the time George W. Bush leaves office.

I remember going on active duty in 1973 when the common wisdom was that the Vietnam War couldn't be won. Everyone knew it except the men fighting it. They always said things like, "when you're up to your butt in alligators, it's hard to remember that the job is to drain the swamp." We didn't go into Iraq to create democracy there, but to begin draining the terrorist swamp that extends from Cairo to Tehran, from Riyadh to Damascus. President Bush - riding high on the initial victory in Iraq - did the same thing that his father did in 1991: he lost sight of the real objective. In 1991, we left Saddam in power. In 2006, we are about to leave Ahmadinejad, Assad and the rest in power to continue their global war of terror against us and our allies. We are Rome, they are Carthage. We have fought this war twice now, under two presidents Bush, and neither has taken the war to a conclusion.

The Baker-Hamilton report aims at resolving the war only in Iraq. As Lee Hamilton said on "Fox News Sunday" and "Meet the Press", they believe that the "...road to peace in Iraq begins and ends in Baghdad, nowhere else." Their detachment from reality cannot be better stated. They propose a huge diplomatic "offensive" in the Middle East that would beggar us before Syria and Iran. That recommendation was too much even for the Washington Post. Its lead editorial Sunday said the Baker-Hamilton, "'s diplomatic strategy is sweeping -- and untethered to reality...To embrace the group's proposed "New Diplomatic Offensive" would be to suppose a Middle East very different from what's on the ground." It doesn't have to be this way. We don't have to lock ourselves in the room with the black dog. But we can only avoid it if this president stands up as he hasn't since 2001, and rejects the path the Baker-Hamilton group has mapped.

Anticipating the president's response to Baker-Hamilton, our adversaries are trying to herd us in their direction. Saudi King Abdullah told the Gulf Cooperation Council that the Middle East, "[Is] like a barrel full of gunpowder that could explode any moment with a single spark...Our Arab region is surrounded by dangers." He said, "Our basic issue of Palestine is still in the hands of a vicious occupying enemy that does not fear anything and in the hands of an international community that looks at the gruesome tragedy as a bystander." What rubbish. Abdullah is playing to the right audience: Baker, Hamilton and their ilk worship at the altar of the Stability God: "He who believeth in Me and does not disturb my support of terrorism and war on Israel shall never lack for oil." Of the few things George W. Bush has right, it's that "stability" in the Middle East is what brought us 9-11. If the Arab world explodes, the nations that comprise it may be blown out of feudalism and Islamofascism.

The Baker-Hamilton gang did get a few things right. Iraq is deteriorating, and the situation cannot get better without a drastic change in US policy. That change needs to be derived from one core concept: defeating the terrorist regimes and draining the Middle Eastern swamp. Creating democracy in Baghdad or anywhere else has nothing to do with it.

Lee Hamilton is comprehensively wrong. The road to peace in Baghdad is not a traffic circle around the Green Zone. The road begins in Tehran and its branches end in Damascus and Riyadh. We are fighting the proxies of Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia in Iraq. No war has ever been won by fighting proxies. We have to take the war to the enemies' centers of gravity and defeat him there by whatever means we need to use to achieve that goal. Drain the swamp, Mr. Bush. Or lock your nation in the black dog's cell.