We could do worse than stay in Iraq

A growing number of Democrats have falsely accused Sen. John McCain of “promising” 100 years of war in Iraq. In fact, McCain’s point was that the presence of American forces promotes stability.

That’s been the case in Europe and Asia where Americans have been stationed for more than half a century. It’s been true in the Balkans since the 1990s when President Clinton sent troops there. America’s military plays a beneficial role when it eliminates America’s enemies; it does so also when it stays on to prevent those enemies from reemerging.

But there is a hard truth that McCain did not state: A hundred years from now Americans might still be fighting militant Islamists in Iraq and other places. What could be worse than that? A hundred years from now America and the West could have been defeated by militant Islamists.

Al-Qaeda, Iran’s ruling mullahs, Hezbollah and others militant jihadis have told us what they are fighting for. The well-known Islamist, Hassan al-Banna, described the movement’s goals succinctly: “to dominate … to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” He said that in 1928.

Who would have believed then that his heirs would acquire the wealth, power and lethality they enjoy today? Who can say where they may be a hundred years from now? Who can say where the West will be? Survival is not an entitlement. It must be earned by every generation.

So the most important question not asked of General David Petreaus when he testified before Congress this week is how to maximize our chances of winning the long, global war in which we are engaged.

Retreating from key battlefields would not appear to be the most promising strategy. Yet opponents of the Iraq war continue to argue for a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. They were unmoved by the most pungent point Petraeus made regarding progress in Iraq.

“We are fighting al-Qaeda every day,” he said. “We have our teeth in their jugular and we need to keep it there.”

Senator Carl Levin, in remarks just prior to the questioning of Petraeus, had next to nothing to say about al-Qaeda or the Iranian-backed militias Americans and Iraqis also have been battling. Instead, he insisted that Iraq remains mired in a civil war, a talking point long past its sell-by date.

Other opponents of the Petraeus mission contended that pulling out of Iraq would free up American forces for Afghanistan. But Iraq is the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. Afghanistan, by contrast, is a strategic backwater.

What’s more, in Afghanistan we are mostly fighting al-Qaeda’s junior partner, the Taliban. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have been reconstituting al-Qaeda HQ across the border in the wilder reaches of Pakistan. No one arguing against the Petraeus mission has provided even the vaguest outline of an improved strategy to confront al-Qaeda forces there.

For nations as well as for individuals, both winning and losing can be habit-forming. How many people have you heard say that America lost in Vietnam — and so what? In 1979, the Iranian mullahs seized our embassy and took our diplomats hostage and we made them pay no price — and so what? In 1983, Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon and we did nothing much — and so what? Ten years later, we retreated from Somalia — and so what? The World Trade Towers were bombed for the first time that same year and we held no regimes or movements responsible — and so what?

But you know what? America was seen as a toothless tiger –“a society that cannot accept 10,000 dead in one battle,” in the words of Saddam Hussein. He instructed “all militant believers” to “target (American) interests wherever they may be.” Bin Laden declared the United States “a weak horse.”

In 2006, al-Zawahiri predicted that the U.S. would go down to defeat in Iraq. It is, he said, “only a matter of time.” Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, added: “I advise all those who place their trust in the Americans to learn the lesson of Vietnam …and to know that when the Americans lose this war –and lose it they will, Allah willing — they will abandon them to their fate, just like they did to all those who placed their trust in them throughout history.”

Let’s suppose it will require a hundred years to defeat such people, the ideas they espouse and the movements they represent. Do we really have anything more important to do?

(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism. E-mail him at cliff(at)defenddemocracy.org)


  1. JudyB

    What could be worse? Who knows..but if it can get worse, Bush will see to it! I hate this needless-illegal-unwinnable oil war, the economy $ucks and continues to get worse. According to our num-nutted President, we are winning his war, and the economy will be better as soon a we get tho$e bail out check$ in May…give me a break! We need to bring our troops home ASAP, thus saving untold troops lives & limbs and bazillion$ in war cost$. Nothing abosolutely nothing would surprise me at what still could happen with Bush at the helm…so when I hear someone say “we could do worse than stay in Iraq”…my first thought is…what?..then soon,I am thinking of all the horrible things that Bush could still pull off.

    My comment on Cliff May..”He is an outspoken advocate of neoconservative foreign policies and PNAC, I do not share a belief in anything he says,writes or opines..nor can it possibly apply to the betterment of my life or that of the United States”

  2. Bluesman2007

    As it is now we’re getting rat poison in Chinese dog food, lead in kids toys, god knows what in our Viagra, what’s a little extra radiation in our kung pow chicken. We’ll all glow in the dark.

  3. Bluesman2007

    “We could do worse than stay in Iraq”

    Actually, you’re right. What could be worse is that we could continue to occupy Iraq for decades. Then, simultaneously carpet bomb Iran back to the stone age. While we’re at it, why not drop some discrete nukes on Russia and China. You know, the small ones. Less fuss for the surrounding countryside and, who knows, the people left there alive (if there are any) might just be mighty grateful to have a US population to work for having cleaned out communist china with one little red button. What an age we live in. Or, we could just start all all-out Armageddon and get the damned thing all over with. That’s what people like really want isn’t it? The rapture? That holy grail of spiritual orgasms? Spare me. Uh, aren’t you folks supposed to be pro-choice? Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.

  4. Dr.D

    There are 6 Mays’ listed on the CFR membership rolls,I don’t see a Cliff,but that may be a nickname.Ya Know?

    If there was ever an identifiable snake in the grass,this guy sure seems like one.And yes,I do believe that if an individual is a member of the subversive CFR,that individual is at the very least,a subversive, and at most, a traitor. Ed