We Are Making Progress There: It may be long overdue. It may be slower than some would prefer. It may not be all of our own doing. But it sure beats the alternative. The old "light-footprint" strategy, in which U.S. forces remained isolated on military bases and largely hidden from the Iraqi population, was a mistake. The new counterinsurgency strategy, in which U.S. forces are living out among the people, and working with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) to defend the population from al-Qaeda and insurgents, has had positive results. As Iraqi citizens have begun to realize that American soldiers will be staying for awhile to protect them, they have become more secure and open, coming forward with valuable tips and intelligence. As a result, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is being driven out of many areas and violence is down. The strategy has been sufficiently successful to warrant its continuation.
Al-Qaeda Is There: It is argued by some that AQI is not the "true" al-Qaeda who attacked us on 9/11, and therefore can be ignored. That argument, quite frankly, is absurd. Does it really matter if a terrorist swears allegiance to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan pre-9/11, or in Iraq in 2005, or in Germany in 2007? The result is always the same: a terrorist is operating in the name of al-Qaeda and bin Laden. We know that al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri communicated directives in a letter to AQI. We have that and other captured documents to prove it. There is new reporting which suggests that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was purposely sent to Iraq by Osama bin Laden before the 2003 invasion to fight the Americans. We know that bin Laden and Zawahiri sent people like Abu Ayyub al-Masri into Iraq to help AQI. (Al-Masri took over the leadership of AQI when al-Zarqawi was killed.) We know that some of them are still there. They have, for the most part, been pushed out of many urban areas by the "surge", but they have not been completely eliminated. The job is not yet done.
Iraq Is Al-Qaeda's Top Priority: Al-Qaeda has said, in their own public statements as well as in captured internal communications, that Iraq is their central front in their war against the infidels. Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a 2005 letter, gave directives to AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: "The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or emirate". In a public statement, Osama bin Laden said, "I now address my speech to the whole of the Islamic nation: Listen and understand... The most important and serious issue today for the whole world is this Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the Islamic nation. It is raging in the land of the two rivers [Iraq]." He called it "a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam." He said, "The whole world is watching this war," and stated that it will end in "victory and glory, or misery and humiliation." So then, will America or al-Qaeda be victorious? Will America or al-Qaeda be humiliated? (Personally, I favor American victory and al-Qaeda humiliation, thank you.) In May of this year, President Bush released newly declassified information that bin Laden sent Hamza Rabia, a top military aide, to Iraq. Osama bin Laden also released a video in September of this year, in which he chastised the American Democratic Party for not stopping the war in Iraq, and further said that al-Qaeda therefore, will "continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you. This is our duty..."
Our Enemies Want Us To Leave: Al-Qaeda wants us to leave. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants us to leave. Moqtada al-Sadr wants us to leave. The rogue militias want us to leave. The criminals want us to leave. They all want us to leave so that a power vacuum is created, which they will be more than happy to fill. This alone should be reason enough for us to stay.
The Iraqi Govt Wants Us To Stay: At the UN this September, President Jalal Talabani said Coalition troops should remain in the country until the ISF are "capable of putting an end to terrorism and maintaining stability and security. Only then will it be possible to talk about a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq." On August 28th, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, asked America to think very carefully about pulling out U.S. troops. "The premature withdrawal of troops from Iraq will be a disaster, not only for Iraq but for the region and for the international community as a whole. It will lead to an all-out civil war. It will lead to a regional war."
The UN Wants Us To Stay: Or at least, to not leave precipitously. In July, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged U.S. policy-makers to exercise "great caution" in considering any rapid withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq. "I'd like to tell you that a great caution should be taken for the sake of the Iraqi people," Ban said at a UN press conference. "Any abrupt withdrawal or decision may lead to a further deterioration."
The Europeans Want Us To Stay: Or to be more precise, European Policy Experts want us to stay. This is in contrast to the European media which, like the American media, tends to be liberal and anti-war. These policy experts think a premature U.S. withdrawal could threaten Europe and its interests. Almost all of them agreed that terrorism would increase in Europe if the U.S. withdrew prematurely.
The Sunni Sheikhs Want Us To Stay: The Sunni sheikhs in Anbar province who recently aligned themselves with the Coalition have taken a bold stance against al-Qaeda and in favor of democracy. If we were to leave suddenly, they would find themselves without friends against both AQI and Shia militants alike.
Iraq's Neighbors Want Us To Stay: At least for awhile. According to a report from the United States Institute of Peace, "each of Iraq's neighbors has its own interests in Iraq, and all are concerned about the U.S. military presence in Iraq and would prefer that it not be prolonged. At the same time, there is general recognition that a peremptory American withdrawal before a stable interim Iraqi authority is in place would be disastrous, not only for Iraq, but for the region as a whole."
Iraq Is Not Ready For Us To Leave: The Iraqi Security Forces are not yet ready to face terrorists and militias on their own. While making great progress, the ISF lacks logistical support, vehicles, and air power to establish a dominant presence to maintain security. Without a capable military to defend itself, the government of Iraq would likely collapse were the U.S. to leave suddenly, and that could lead to chaos and civil war.
Potential Sectarian Civil War: In the event that the Iraqi government were to fall following a premature U.S. withdrawal, a sectarian civil war could result on a magnitude greater than that which occurred following the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samara in February 2006. Sectarian conflict in Iraq would be likely to spill over into neighboring countries where Sunni and Shia live uneasily together. Most Iraqis now view U.S. forces as an impartial element preventing a disastrous sectarian struggle.
Potential Humanitarian Catastrophe: A premature withdrawal from Iraq could lead to the slaughter of our allies in Iraq; for example, the Sunni sheikhs referred to above. There are also the thousands of Iraqis who are volunteering to join local police forces. The continued presence of American troops is necessary to support these Iraqis who are associating with the Coalition, trying to end terrorism in their communities, and trying to establish a democratic government. The ISF would likely be unable to stop violence from escalating following a premature U.S. withdrawal. We should remember what happened when America abandoned the South Vietnamese and later the Kurds.
To Prevent Victory & Prestige For Al-Qaeda: Despite whatever the U.S. would say to spin a premature withdrawal from Iraq, al-Qaeda would claim it as a victory. That would have a dramatic effect on al-Qaeda's prestige. Al-Qaeda leaders would claim that they have defeated two superpowers on the battlefield: the Soviet Union in the Afghan war, and now the United States in Iraq. They would use this new-found prestige for recruiting purposes. Al-Qaeda would be emboldened, and they would get new recruits to expand their reign of terror.
To Prevent U.S. Defeat & Credibility Problems: Again, despite whatever the U.S. would say to spin a premature withdrawal from Iraq, the world would see it as a U.S. defeat. This would only reinforce America's already-tarnished image as a partner that cannot be relied upon to get the job done militarily. It would only add to the list of conflicts from which the U.S. has withdrawn prematurely: Vietnam-1975, Lebanon-1983, Iraq-1991, Somalia-1994. We need people to feel secure about aligning themselves with the U.S., both in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. They won't feel secure if we continue to cut-and-run.
To Prevent Safe Haven For Al-Qaeda: If the U.S. withdraws prematurely, we will leave behind AQI operators that have not yet been captured or killed. Al-Qaeda will use Iraq as a base from which to launch more attacks against the current Iraqi government, Iraq's neighbors, and then Europe and America. Al-Qaeda will also attempt to set up a Taliban-style emirate there, although that may now be more difficult to accomplish. The Shia majority and the Kurds are not likely to accept Taliban-style rule, and al-Qaeda has even turned Iraq's Sunnis against themselves. But things could change if the U.S. were to pull out suddenly. In a sectarian war, Sunnis would likely ally themselves with al-Qaeda against the Shia, even if only temporarily.
To Prevent Intervention Of Iraq's Neighbors: Assuming that a sectarian civil war were to erupt in Iraq, then Iraq's neighbors would intervene for sectarian reasons as well as in an attempt to restore order. Shia Iran has already publicly announced it would intervene. Sunni Saudi Arabia would no doubt intervene as well. Turkey might make an incursion into northern Iraq against the Kurds. Syria would no doubt enter the fray in support of the Iranians. The situation could rapidly devolve into a regional or world war.
The U.S. May Have To Return: It is quite conceivable that the U.S. would have to return to Iraq under much worse conditions than we are facing today. We could be going back into a conflict which is regional versus local; where allies don't trust us; where al-Qaeda is stronger than it is today; where Iraqis who aligned themselves with us in the past are either dead or angry because we abandoned them; where the conflict might include open combat against Iranians and Syrians as well as AQI and local militias.
To Prevent Disengagement: If we withdraw from Iraq prematurely, we will essentially disengage our enemies where we are now capturing and killing them successfully, only to face them in another location, such as Afghanistan. Wherever we go in the war against terror, al-Qaeda will make that their central front of jihad. In the process, we will have lost the current initiative and momentum. Al-Qaeda will simply shift its resources to wherever we go. If we go nowhere else and bring all the troops home, then they will follow us here. Either we stay on the offensive and continue to defeat them, or we go on the defensive and allow them time to regroup.
Oil, Money & The Economy: Considering the chaos that could develop in Iraq after a premature U.S. departure, it is likely that Iraqi oil production would be disrupted. This would put additional upward pressure on the price of oil in what is already an event-sensitive market. If al-Qaeda were to use Iraq as a base of operations to attack Saudi oil fields, the situation would only get worse. If money from Iraqi oil production were diverted to al-Qaeda, we can assume that the increased funding would be used to perpetrate more deadly acts of terrorism. Another concern is that a portion of Iraq's oil production could fall under the control of Iran. Not only would oil prices climb, but Iran could use this control as leverage against the West in its nuclear ambitions. Under a worst case scenario, economies around the world could be hammered.
To Prevent Increased Terror Risk: Again, if al-Qaeda finds a safe haven in Iraq, the risk of new terrorist incidents around the world will increase. One would assume that the attacks would start out against the current government of Iraq in order to destabilize it in an effort to effect its downfall. That would be followed by attacks on Iraq's neighbors in al-Qaeda's quest to establish the Caliphate. Ayman al-Zawahiri, in his 2005 letter, to AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he said: "The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq. The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or emirate... The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq." Thus, oil-rich Saudi Arabia would be threatened. Nuclear Pakistan would be threatened. Kuwait and Jordan would be threatened. Our ally Turkey would be threatened. There would also be an increased risk of another catastrophic 9/11-type attack on Europe and/or America.
Obligation: As the old saying goes, "If you break it, you pay for it". In other words, if the U.S. can be blamed for "creating a mess" in Iraq, then the U.S. is obligated to clean it up. Running away and leaving the mess for somebody else to clean up (for example, Europe, the U.N., NATO, or Iraq's neighbors) is dishonorable, and unbecoming of a great nation.
To Prevent Betraying Our Friends: As stated before, those in Iraq who have aligned themselves with us depend on U.S. commitment to remain there. A premature and hasty withdrawal would place those who have put their trust in America, in jeopardy. Although groups such as MoveOn.org flippantly produce ads with phrases that suggest our generals or our President have betrayed us, they callously ignore a much more real betrayal. True "betrayal" is when one offers to support a friend who stands up in the face of death, and then fails to deliver - as in the case of the Kurds and the Shi'ites who rose up against Saddam following the liberation of Kuwait. True "betrayal" is when one turns a blind eye while hundreds of thousands of friends die - as in the case of (post-withdrawal) Vietnam.
To Prevent Betraying Our Troops: If the U.S. pulls out of Iraq prematurely, it will be an act of betrayal against our troops. We have sent our troops into Iraq (with Congressional approval) on the basis that this was a just war to depose a tyrant and a brutal murderer who had used WMD in the past, and might use WMD again in the future. While the number of WMD found in Iraq was below expectations, there were indeed some. Coalition Forces also found: uranium ore which could have been used to make a dirty bomb, banned weapon delivery systems (long-range missiles), and evidence of WMD programs that were on hold just waiting to be rejuventated. There were also plenty of mass graves to support the belief that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and a mass murderer. Our troops who are now in Iraq: 1) believe their mission is a noble cause, 2) believe that they are providing essential aid and assistance to a fledgling democracy, 3) are dealing with extreme circumstances such as 120 degree temperatures, 4) have incredibly high morale, and 5) want to finish the job of defeating al-Qaeda and stabilizing the country. To suggest that their mission: 1) is wrong, 2) is not noble, 3) is a failure, or 4) should be ended prematurely when progress is being made, is reprehensible. These troops are volunteers and many have re-enlisted once, twice or three times to go back to Iraq and finish the job. The vast majority of the troops are disappointed or angered when they hear talk of immediate withdrawal.
To Prevent Betraying Our Beliefs: The United States was founded upon certain fundamental principles. Americans believe that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Americans believe that all human beings in the world are endowed with the same rights. Americans believe that Muslims are no less entitled to freedom than Christians. Americans believe that Iraqis are no less entitled to liberty than Americans. Since the Iraqis have overwhelmingly voted in favor of freedom and democracy, to withdraw from Iraq before the promise of freedom and democracy have been firmly established there, would be a betrayal of our beliefs. It would be a signal to the world that we as Americans do not care enough about liberty or freedom, that we should go so far as to assist others in securing it. Before the United States came into being, there were thirteen British colonies which sought, at great peril, to obtain freedom. Without the assistance of a "coalition" of French, Polish, German and Irish allies, it is quite conceivable that these United States would not exist today. It should be noted that France was nearly bankrupted by their support of America during the Revolution. As we are then beholden to others for our own liberty, we ought not to ignore the plight of others who seek our help in their courageous quest for democracy.
There Are Signs Of Reconciliation: Although they have largely gone unreported in the media, there have been definite signs of reconciliation occuring in Iraq. Within the last several weeks, the following items have surfaced. Incidents of sectarian violence continue to decline. Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish soldiers work well together in integrated Army units. Nouri al-Maliki and other top Shi'ite government leaders have met with Sunni Sheikhs from Anbar Province. Two of Iraq's most influential Shia leaders, Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, have signed a deal to end the bloody violence between their groups. Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani met with Sunni vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, for the first time, to discuss a new initiative aimed at uniting feuding politicians over sectarian rifts that have hampered progress on the passage of key laws in parliament. Nouri al-Maliki, in his speech before the United Nations said, "National reconciliation is indeed stronger than the weapons of terrorism", and that the spirit of reconciliation has kept his country from "slipping into the pit of sectarian war". The Shia majority government has been offering job positions or pensions to former Sunni Ba'athists who were in the government or the army under Saddam Hussein. Sunni Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha has asked Sunni political leaders in parliament to tone down sectarian rhetoric, and reached out to the office of the Shi'ite cleric and political figure Moqtada Sadr. Many of these good things happening in Iraq are flying under the radar in American media.
There Is A Chance For Success: The situation in Iraq is not hopeless. The Sunni sheikhs in Anbar have turned against al-Qaeda. Military sources on the ground in Iraq are cautiously optimistic that AQI has been dealt a fatal blow. Thousands of Iraqis have volunteered to join local police forces. Approximately 50,000 Iraqis have signed up to be part of local citizen watch groups, looking for signs of terrorism. They are providing valuable tips and intelligence to the Coalition and the ISF. In some cases, they have gone so far as to stop terror attacks that were in progress. There have been acts of heroism, bravery and self-sacrifice among the Iraqis that are truly inspirational. The Iraqi Security Forces are working hard to protect the population and are gaining the confidence of the people. There are grassroots movements throughout Iraq to bolster the new government, to take responsibility for their own local future, to rebuild the infrastructure, and to generally succeed at democracy. Iraq's government may be having some problems at the top, but it is succeeding from the bottom up. The U.S. has a real chance to stabilize Iraq, develop the emerging Iraqi Security Forces, and improve the effectiveness of Iraq’s government. Ambassador Crocker put it best when he said, "I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. I do believe that it is attainable. I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure.”