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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Onward to victory

Last week I saw the movie "300," a visually stunning epic about a handful of brave Spartans who held a vast Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae long enough for the Greek city-states to mobilize for war, which they ultimately won. Today, the fourth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, about 150,000 American service men and women are fighting against radical Islamists in Iraq as part of the larger Global War on Terror. After four years, popular support for the war has fallen and the new Congress is working toward a timetable for withdrawal from the embattled nation.

Though some believe Congress has a mandate to force a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, this would be a disastrous policy not only for the Iraqi people but also for the United States. Retired General Barry McCaffrey, a correspondent for NBC, expanded on this point when he wrote, "In less than six months, our 150,000 troops could fight their way along strategic withdrawal corridors back to the sea and the safety provided by the Navy. Several million terrified refugees would follow, the route of our columns marked by the burning pyres of abandoned military supplies demolished by our rear guard. The resulting civil warfare would probably turn Iraq into a humanitarian disaster and might well draw in the Iranians and Syrians." Whichever way you look at it, withdrawal threatens the security of Iraq, the Middle East and the people of the United States.

The 2006 elections brought a number of new members to Congress who advocate a withdrawal from Iraq, and the shift in public opinion against the war has led a number of politicians who initially supported the war to now favor redeployment out of the country. Many members of the 110th Congress owe a great deal to the progressive-socialist anti-war constituency who worked for their election, and they have frequently used two major arguments to justify their commitment to withdrawal. First, some argue that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, and that Americans should create a timetable for withdrawal to force Iraqis to take care of themselves and to avoid putting American soldiers between two warring factions. Second, some argue that the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq made the war pointless and that no more American troops should die for a misguided war.

The first argument was made by U.S. Representative Joe Donnelly when he said, "At some point the Iraqis have to stand up ... and decide that they don't want any more death and destruction" ("Donnelly shares views on election, Congress," Feb. 21). Donnelly voted against "the surge" in a non-binding resolution on Feb. 14, and in his remarks said, "Our brave troops should not be placed in the middle of an incredibly dangerous civil war." Though Donnelly does not favor withdrawal, I find it absurd when he says that the Iraqi people are not standing up for themselves when Iraqi army and police forces suffer casualties daily, Iraqi politicians face assassination and kidnapping and Iraqi citizens tip off Iraqi and coalition forces to the hiding places of foreign terrorists. Iraq does face civil strife, but the current crisis is hardly a civil war.

Even if Iraq is considered to be in civil war, and thus a place unsuitable for American troops, surely Bosnia and Rwanda would have qualified when the left demanded that Americans be put in harm's way in those far-off locales. The same progressives and socialists who demand an immediate end to the mission in Iraq tend to also demand military intervention in Darfur, where the very mission would place American peacekeepers "in the middle of an incredibly dangerous civil war" as Donnelly so eloquently put it. If we left Iraq, we would be abandoning Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites to the same fate as Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis. Removing troops from Iraq, which is unstable due to our actions, because of civil strife is thus unjustifiable if military intervention is deemed appropriate in Sudan and is ongoing in Bosnia.

Some politicians also draw on the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to support their commitment to withdrawal. For a moment, pretend that in May 2003, U.S. forces discovered three nuclear warheads in Samarra, Iraq. Would this discovery justify the loss of almost 3,000 of our finest citizens to anti-war progressives and socialists? Would the existence of these three devices turn Iraq into a strong, unified state free of al Qaeda? Would Saddam's former nuclear stockpile deter Iran and Syria from their plan to turn Iraq into a client state? The reasonable answer to all three of these questions is no. We would face exactly the same problems in Iraq that we face today even if Saddam's alleged weapons were found in 2003, and we would have to continue to fight to prevent al Qaeda or Iran and Syria from dominating the country.

It is not the sectarian violence or lack of WMDs that is driving calls for withdrawal, but the ongoing mismanagement of the war and the difficulty of achieving victory. General George S. Patton once said, "Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in Hell for a man who lost and laughed." During the 2006 election, voters saw President Bush as the man who lost and laughed, determined to stay the course in a losing war, and Americans showed their disdain for that approach through the ballot box.

After Sept. 11, the Bush Administration did not expand the size of the military to meet the needs of a protracted global conflict, and as a result, Operation Iraqi Freedom had inadequate troops from the beginning. Though "the surge" initially appears to be working, the additional troops will not allow our presence to meet the ratio of one soldier for every 20 hostile civilians necessary to successfully combat an insurgency.

Fortunately for our country, there are politicians who are focusing on strengthening our military and winning the war. Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and others have called for an increase in the size of the Army and Marines and stronger Congressional oversight for the war to ensure its progress. The progressive-socialist anti-war constituency claims that the 2006 election provided a mandate for withdrawal, but its friends in Congress cannot gain enough votes to cut off funding and end the war. I think it is far more likely that Americans play to win, and want the 110th Congress to lead them to victory where Republicans failed to do so, rather than down the road to ignominy and defeat.

Jonathan Klingler is a senior management consulting major and president emeritus of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He currently resides in Keenan Hall and enjoys Tolstoy and Matlock. He can be contacted via e-mail at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.