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Archive for Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hasty withdrawal won’t offset early mistakes

June 21, 2006

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I have some advice for those who booed Sen. Hillary Clinton's principled stand on the Iraq war and other unhelpful critics who generally are making a nuisance of themselves in the U.S. Congress and the general public: Climb down from your ill-informed peanut gallery, and recognize that an immediate cut-and-run strategy - or even the announcement of a short-term timetable for troop withdrawal - would spell disaster for the United States and its allies.

Let's get a few matters straight.

I regret that the United States intervened too soon in Iraq; I opposed that decision.

I regret that the Bush administration was not patient enough for international arms inspections to run their course, which would not have taken long and allowed the formation of more compelling coalition against Saddam Hussein.

I regret that the intervention unfolded with such a cock-sure attitude and a lazy eye toward what was likely to happen on the ground.

I regret that the White House paid too little attention to the advice of key advisers, such as former Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, which would have put post-Saddam Iraq on stronger footing sooner.

I regret that anti-American extremists flocked to Iraq and created a major battlefield in the war against terrorism.

I regret that the Iraqi army was disbanded, which flooded an already unstable environment with idle, dangerous hands.

And I regret that so many American troops have lost their lives or sustained injuries.

Although all of those disappointments and developments did occur, a hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces would not change the mistakes of history or correct the current situation.

Clinton has it right. She opposes the reckless setting of a deadline to pull U.S. troops from Iraq, while at the same time rejecting an open-ended commitment. That is the most sensible, realistic and promising stance to take in dealing with the Iraq conundrum; it allows plenty of room for innovation and much-needed new strategies.

In other words, Clinton understands what proponents of hasty proposals, such as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha do not - that the price of freedom runs much higher than the cost of transporting U.S. troops home from Iraq. Kerry's deadline is the end of this year; Murtha would yank the troops immediately.

God forbid that such a plan would come to fruition, for it would embolden terrorists to ramp up their targeting of Americans in Boston, Johnstown, Pa., and elsewhere.

Kerry's plan would buoy Saddam loyalists, al-Qaida-associated terrorists and other miscreants who hunger for the new Iraq to stumble. It also would work against recent successes, such as the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and a crackdown by Iraqi and U.S.-led forces, signaling insurgents that they need wait only six months before launching a bid for power. Whether terrorists actually took control or simply exercised influence from behind the scenes, Iraq easily could change from a hotbed of violence and extremism to an exporter of terror on a grand scale to neighboring countries and eventually the United States.

Murtha's plan would invite the same unacceptable results, only faster.

In that event, Murtha, Kerry and their echoes would wear and deserve faces turned spanking red from frustration, humiliation and fear over the devastation that they unwittingly would have enabled.

The Iraq war demands commitment, unity, persistence and innovative thinking. Denying the threat and running from it will not keep Americans safe.

John C. Bersia, an editorial writer for the Orlando Sentinel, also is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida.

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