When a politician or a journalist talks about an “exit strategy” from Iraq, there is only one appropriate response: Roll your eyes and leave the room.
Imagine some senator or reporter during World War II asking Roosevelt and Churchill to define their “exit strategy” from Europe and the Pacific. They probably would not have dignified the question with an answer. Or, if they had, they might have said: “We have a strategy for victory. The alternative would be a strategy for defeat. Do we look like defeatists to you?”
Indeed, the leaders of the Anglo-American alliance made no attempt to find a formula that would bring troops home early at the price of, say, leaving Hitler in command of just a few central European countries.
On the contrary, the price that Germany and Japan paid for having become America's enemies was that they had to choose between “unconditional surrender” and catastrophic destruction.
But a few years later, we did accept a substitute for victory in the Korean War. The consequence: More than half a century later we are menaced by a second generation despot in Pyongyang, heading a regime that has been building nuclear weapons and exporting nuclear technology to those who despise us.
In Vietnam, we also had an exit strategy – the image that comes to mind is of helicopters frantically evacuating Americans from the roof of our besieged embassy in Saigon. After we left, millions of Vietnamese exited, too -- using not helicopters but ramshackle boats. An unknown number perished in shark-infested seas.
The Cold War – World War III – we won, despite that fact that much of the Washington foreign policy Establishment wanted to back away from any serious confrontation with Communism. But others – Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson and President Reagan, for example – preferred to push until the Soviet Union fell.
In Iraq today, America and its allies are fighting two enemies. The first are the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime, those who were neither “shocked” nor “awed” by the invasion of 2003. It is clear that we erred by permitting them to flee and reorganize, apparently utilizing neighboring Syria, another Ba'athist regime, as a safe haven.
If, thanks to a premature exit, these butchers (of Iraqis, Iranians, Kuwaitis, Israelis and Americans), were to return to power in Baghdad, it would be a significant defeat for the U.S. and for the Free World.
We also are fighting the forces of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, designated by Osama bin Laden as the top al Qaeda general in Iraq. Were Americans to depart Iraq while Zarqawi remained, it would represent nothing short of our Waterloo in the War on Terrorism.
All this seems fairly self-evident, yet it is not just Senator Ted Kennedy, film-maker Michael Moore and other “blame-America-firsters” who are demanding an exit strategy. A Lexis/Nexis search finds the term used more than a thousand times in the last month alone.
Is it possible -- despite everything that has happened – that there are still those who are not convinced that America must fight those who have declared war on America and who have attacked America repeatedly and viciously?
Richard Clarke, the former White House terrorism advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has just inaugurated a column for The New York Times Magazine. In his first contribution, Clarke argues that the Bush policy of “more democracy won't mean less terrorism.” And he's right – if promoting democracy is all there is to the policy. But coupled with a serious effort to undermine terrorist-sponsoring regimes, humble terrorist masters and kill or capture individual terrorists there is at least a chance for success.
Regarding the necessity for such warfare, Clarke has nothing to say in this column – except, oh yes, he does note that, “for many in the Islamic world, the United States is still associated with such acts as having made the 250,000 person city of Fallujah uninhabitable.”
You read that right. Clarke has not an unkind word to say for the terrorists who seized Fallujah, set up torture chambers and summarily executed those who might oppose them. No, to Clarke, the mistake was that American troops fought the terrorists in Fallujah, thus causing what Clarke calls “enormous resentment.”
In the 20th Century, the United States won its wars against European and Asian fascism – partly because there was no exit strategy. In fact, decades later, American troops remain both in Europe and in Asia. If America is to win the 21st century war against Islamist fascism, armed forces may need to remain in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. For how long? I think Roosevelt and Churchill would say: “For the duration.” Or, as Churchill did indeed say: “No compromise with the main purpose, no peace till victory, no pact with unrepentant wrong.”
If you agree, the next time anyone talks about an “exit strategy,” head for the exit.