Alexander's Column

If not Iraq, then where, when and at what cost?

Mark Alexander · Jan. 12, 2007

Amid all the political posturing about whether we should surge into or out of Iraq, a reality check with the rationale for Operation Iraqi Freedom is in order when considering the Bush administration’s revised operation plan, and rules of engagement, to accomplish our OIF mission. Of course, reality checks have never been prerequisite to the Democrats' foreign-policy positions, especially in the perpetual election cycle. Hard realities, after all, make for difficult decisions.

For the record, on 11 September 2001, before the dust had settled over lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, U.S. military and intelligence analysts determined, correctly, that the architect of the attacks that morning was sheik Osama bin Laden. He was the chief Imam of Jihadistan, that borderless nation of Islamic extremists comprising al-Qa'ida and other Muslim terrorist groups around the world.

Though not a symmetric threat to the West (one with well-defined political, economic and geographic objectives), it became crystal clear that fateful morning that Osama and his Jihadi adherents would use any means at their disposal to cripple the West.

Jihadi terrorists had attacked western civilian targets for more than two decades, with limited retaliation. However, all that changed when our nation watched as some 3,000 of our fellow Americans were slaughtered by just a handful of al-Qa'ida terrorists.

In a world where the proliferation of nuclear WMD is a growth industry, the Bush administration launched a bold military campaign to push back the frontlines of this war to its strongholds in the Middle East, in order to thwart additional attacks on U.S. urban centers. After containing Jihadi forces in Afghanistan, our best national estimates were that Iraq posed the greatest threat to regional stability and was the most likely conduit for Jihadi WMD.

On 19 March 2003, after long deliberations by the UN, the U.S. and our allies invaded Iraq. The Security Council’s foot-dragging, however, along with substantial help from the French and Russians, had provided an ample window for Saddam to export some or all of his WMD to Syria and Iran.

OIF had several objectives – which were, and remain, within the margin of our critical national interests. The short-term tactical objectives were to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyrannical rule and remove Iraq as a conduit for WMD. The long-term strategic objectives were, and remain, to establish a democratic Muslim state to support regional stability and an ally who would permit forward deployment bases for limited personnel but significant military hardware.

The rub, and it’s a big one, is that when the U.S. launched OIF, it was estimated by war planners that major hostilities would cease within 90-120 days. While “major,” in this case, is certainly open to interpretation, (noting that any combat operation is major when incoming rounds are intended for you), no estimates projected that we would still be involved in combat operations almost four years into OIF.

Of course, no war plan survives the opening salvo.

However, listening to the Democrats accuse the administration of lying about Iraq, and then using that canard to effect a politically expedient sounding of the retreat, one must conclude that these Demos think they are bulletproof in regard to their own opinions in advance of OIF.

Fact is, however, every prominent Democrat was once of the same opinion as the Bush administration. The only difference now is that those Democrats long ago lost their will to fight. They’re now as eager as al-Qa'ida to see the U.S. retreat from Iraq.

What has ground OIF into a virtual stalemate for three years is the influx of Jihadi insurgents and domestic tribal and sectarian fractionalization, which continue to destabilize efforts by the Iraqi government to establish social and economic order, particularly in Baghdad.

Given the Democrats' effective politicization of OIF in the run-up to midterm elections last October, and given the degree to which their hand-wringing had undermined our national will to stay the course in Iraq, President Bush had little chance of obtaining public support for sending additional forces to the region. Ironically, it is the Democrat victories in both the House and Senate that provided the opening President Bush needed to call for additional troops.

Knowing the Democrats' penchant for reacting as opposed to acting – because, after all, actions have consequences – the President called their bluff. Wednesday, he appealed to the nation for what military commanders believe will be enough additional troops to stabilize Baghdad and finish the job in Iraq – 20,000 more troops (a number far short of the 35,000 troops some Republicans, like Sen. John McCain, insist are needed).

President Bush also called for a much needed and long overdue expansion of service personnel, as outlined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “The President would strengthen our military for the long war against terrorism by authorizing an increase in the overall strength of the Army and the Marine Corps. I am recommending to him a total increase in the two services of 92,000 soldiers and Marines over the next five years – 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines. The emphasis will be on increasing combat capability. This increase will be accomplished in two ways. First, we will propose to make permanent the temporary increase of 30,000 for the Army and 5,000 for the Marine Corps. Then we propose to build up from that base in annual increments of 7,000 troops a year for the Army and 5,000 for the Marine Corps until the Marine Corps reaches a level of 202,000, and the Army would be at 547,000.”

Democrat leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have rejected any “surge option” as a “serious mistake,” instead calling for “phased redeployment” (AKA, “retreat”) in the next four to six months. Politically speaking, Reid and Pelosi are staking out a perilous position, both politically and in terms of our national security.

The hard reality is this: If we don’t finish the OIF mission now, we will have to finish it later and, potentially, at much greater cost, both in terms of human lives and resources. Pulling out of Iraq will have severe implications for the stability of other states in the region, in effect, turning the Gulf over to Jihadistan forces of Iran, Hizballah, Hamas and radical Shi'ites. A retreat will necessitate a return to the region with perhaps four or five times the number of American military personnel now deployed in Iraq.

Shoring up our critical national interest in the Middle East and protecting our homeland from another catastrophic attack must trump rancorous politics.

John Stuart Mill wrote, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom is a bitter pill, to be sure, but one that will become less palatable only if we refuse to take it now.

Our enemies are fully as determined as Nazi Germany, and more determined that the Soviets. Our enemies will kill us the first chance they get. There is no rational ability to deny that fact. It’s very clear that the problems are larger and more immediate than the political systems in Israel or the US are currently capable of dealing with.“ –Newt Gingrich