Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Second Guessing Ourselves on Iraq

Life is often like a big game of chess. We make decisions, and then have to live with the consequences - we cannot take our moves back.

About two years ago, a decision was made to send American troops into Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein's regime and install in Iraq a free and democratic government. Then, and now, many people do not agree with that decision. This criticism has been fueled by the fact that the main pretense for the invasion (weapons of mass destruction) has subsequently turned out to be baseless. It has also not helped matters that the American forces have made a number of key blunders in Iraq since the invasion, including the Abu Ghraib fiasco, mistakenly bombing a wedding party, failing to secure key cities such as Fallujah, and failing to earn the trust of many Iraqis on the street.

But the decision to invade Iraq was made, and a commitment was entered. The time to second-guess that decision is over: it ended on March 19, 2003 at around the time the first bomb dropped on Baghdad in the "shock and awe" campaign, or when the first American tank crossed the Iraqi border. From that moment on, the United States took on a responsibility to complete the job it started.

In just 26 days, the United States took care of the "easy part" of that job - deposing Saddam's regime. With the greatly superior firepower, training, and technology of the American troops, there was no question as to the eventual outcome of that exercise. But, then came the hard part: helping Iraq to rebuild, and helping it to install a democratic government in a part of the world where democracies are few and far between. In deposing Saddam's regime, and dismantling his security infrastructure, the United States took on the responsibility to secure Iraq until Iraq could rebuild an effective police and military force to do the job itself.

Many people argue that the United States should pull its troops out immediately, but this is the worst possible time America could do that. To employ this type of cut-and-run approach now, putting Iraq in such a vulnerable state (after being the one who put it there), then abandoning it to the wolves would be an act of cowardice - and America, is not a nation of cowards. Abandoning Iraq now would leave it without any effective government, and without any effective security force - pretty much the same situation as Somalia 12 years ago: a Petri dish ripe for the incubation of terrorists. And, abandoning Iraq now would motivate terrorists around the world by showing them that the American military can be easily scared off.

Now that America has its troops on the ground in Iraq, it has taken on a commitment to stay and see the initiative through to completion, leaving Iraq as a stable democracy, and not come running home with its tail between its legs when things get difficult. For America to shirk from its responsibility now would be a wanton act of disregard for the people of Iraq, and would be a stain on America's reputation.

Let's stop focusing on the past, and focus instead on the future. Rather than second-guessing ourselves on the motives behind the Iraq invasion, let's think a bit more about how America can best help Iraq to stablilize; and in the process bring American troops home - soon, but not prematurely soon.