Before the intervention in Iraq, I warned that U.S. involvement there would be burdensome, deadly, expensive and lengthy. I also disagreed with the Bush administration's decision to use military force at that time.
But I cannot fathom the thinking of those who harp on that moot point, and use it to bolster their contention that the situation in Iraq is so dire that America must set a timetable and withdraw its troops as soon as possible.
Quite the contrary. Because the situation is serious and presents an ongoing danger to U.S. national security, this nation must stay put - but with a clearer strategy than President George W. Bush has outlined to date. It's all well and good that Bush has acknowledged some past mistakes and seeks changes. But the new strategy must be more decisive.
Instead of dangling the politically motivated possibility of bringing some U.S. troops home next year, the administration should push for a short-term increase in the number of allied troops. It should demonstrate its own commitment by immediately ordering another 50,000 troops to Iraq.
Now, I am as concerned as anyone else about the safety of U.S. troops; I personally know many American men and women who find or have found themselves in harm's way in Iraq. All the more reason to step up the troop presence - to protect more effectively those who are there and to accelerate their necessary work of helping to establish a stable, governable state. There will be ample time to plan for a troop withdrawal once the job is finished; that's how the next phase of the Iraq intervention should unfold, not in response to knee-jerk, uninformed criticism.
In addition, the Bush administration should step up pressure on its allies to increase their military commitments. It also should seek to widen the role of non-military members of the U.S.-led coalition, especially those with capable forces, as well as the Kurdish fighters who have been helpful in northern Iraq. Further, the White House should encourage NATO, which finally has a presence in Iraq, to assume more of the burden, and make special entreaties to nations such as France and Russia. Finally, it's not too late to engage the United Nations in a broader way.
Critics, for their part, should become part of the solution instead of chanting that Bush "doesn't get it" and making other unhelpful suggestions. The new Iraq, like Rome, cannot rise in a day - or during the next year. So many evolving factors, from the rampaging insurgency to the questionable preparedness of Iraqi forces, obscure accurate projections.
It would be naive, therefore, to believe that a withdrawal timetable - which Bush properly rejects - would improve circumstances on the ground. Such a step would merely encourage the insurgents, from remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime to al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists.
Foreign terrorists, in particular, pose a terrifying, long-term threat. For them, Iraq presents a training ground more ideal than any they have seen since the Taliban days in Afghanistan. It also provides an opportunity for them to plot future attacks and rally extremists worldwide. Should the United State prematurely withdraw, the terrorists would propagandize that setback and carry out their vow to attack U.S. interests around the world.
Americans made the mistake once before of downplaying al-Qaida's intentions and capabilities following the former Soviet Union's ouster from Afghanistan. They continued to pay insufficient attention as al-Qaida expressed growing anger at U.S. policy during the Persian Gulf War of the early 1990s, and began to strike at American targets in the decade that followed. It took 9-11 for most people to realize that the terrorists had ominous ambitions that could reach U.S. shores. As we know, those attacks claimed thousands of lives in a matter of hours. Future attacks, potentially with even more fearsome weapons, are inevitable.
The United States cannot afford to underestimate the threat again. The time to take a stand has come, and it must happen in Iraq. To the extent that America fights and succeeds against tyranny and terrorism in that country, it sends a signal of U.S. resolve and commitment in the war against terrorism.
Once the Iraqis are capable of handling their own security requirements and wish for the allied forces to depart, they will make their feelings known. Only at that point would it be safe and sensible to bring the troops home.