There are myriad reasons why Iraq will remain an important issue for the 2008 elections in spite of the fact that the current successes of the surge have largely removed it from the headlines.
The most obvious reason that we should continue to fight for a free and stable Iraq is that, if the terrorists win, they will establish a national base for terrorist training and support, just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan (1). A failure in Iraq would leave a terrorist state from which al Qaeda could launch further attacks on the United States.
A terrorist state in Iraq would be much worse for us than Afghanistan, however. Iraq is country rich in oil. If the terrorists gain control of Iraq’s oil, they will not only have a base from which to launch attacks; they will have a way to fund their war against the west (2).
A retreat from Iraq would also endanger Iraqi civilians (3). Terrorists in Iraq are known for their torture and murder of innocent civilians who support the elected government and coalition forces. If the coalition forces leave and the elected government becomes ineffective, Iraqi civilians would be at the mercy of bloodthirsty terrorists and militias. The death toll would be staggering and refugees would flood neighboring countries, much the same way the “boat people” escaped the clutches of “People’s Republic” of Vietnam after the fall of South Vietnam. A glimpse of the human tragedy to come can be seen in the murders and torture chambers revealed in areas of Iraq formerly held by Al Qaeda.
Iraq would also be strategically important in the looming confrontation with Iran (4). As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad moves his country towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons, he must contend with the fact that US troops and aircraft are already based on two of Iran’s borders, its western border with Iraq and its eastern border with Afghanistan. This puts Ahmadinejad at a huge disadvantage in a conventional conflict and makes it easier for US forces to stage an attack, if necessary.
Some politicians claim that Iraq has been a distraction from the War on Terror for the United States. In truth, it has been more of a distraction for the terrorists (5). Al Qaeda has poured men and resources into Iraq to fight Coalition forces. When these terrorists are in Iraq, they can be hunted down by Coalition forces and killed. When they are in Iraq, they are not making their way into the United States or attacking Americans abroad. It is not a coincidence that there has not been a major terrorist attack in the US since 9/11.
Politicians speak of ending the war in Iraq, but a US withdrawal would not end the war. In fact, the presence of US troops may the only thing preventing escalation of the war into a larger regional conflict (6). Iranian forces have already sent Revolutionary Guards troops and weapons into Iraq to assist Shiite militias. There is little doubt that they would expand their assistance, or launch a full-scale invasion as Syria did in Lebanon, to fill the power vacuum if the US were not present. Saudi Arabia has stated that if the US leaves, Saudi troops will intervene to protect their Sunni brethren from the Shiite majority. Iranian and Saudi troops would likely end up fighting each other and other countries might join in both sides. Additionally, Turkey would probably attack Kurdish bases in northern Iraq as well.
A premature US withdrawal would also erase the enormous gains made by US and Iraqi forces since the beginning of the troop surge a year ago and make vain the sacrifices of the US, Iraqi, and Coalition soldiers who have been killed or wounded in the struggle against Islamic terrorism (7). Violence is down by almost every measure. Al Anbar province, a year ago considered a lost cause, is now the model of cooperation between Iraqi tribes and US troops. Car bombs, kidnappings, and other terror attacks have become rare enough that they have almost disappeared from news reports. The exit of US forces would enable the terrorists to move back into areas now controlled by the Iraqi government.
Finally, a retreat from Iraq would damage US prestige and destroy the trust that our allies place in us for years to come (8). The US has a history of walking out on our allies when the going gets tough. If we want other countries to trust and respect us, then we need to follow through on our national commitments. Countries such as Pakistan, Taiwan, and South Korea are no doubt watching particularly closely. If nations doubt our resolve, they may choose to align themselves with one of the numerous nations who consider themselves a challenger to our sole superpower status, such as Russia or China, or a regional competitor, such as Iran or Venezuela. A decline in US prestige could negatively affect national security or the US economy.
The US is winning in Iraq. A withdrawal before the Iraqi government is ready to stand-alone would only help the terrorists. Candidates who advocate a pullout are advocating a return to the dark days of an out of control insurgency or, worse, to a theocratic terrorist regime, as in Iran or Afghanistan under the Taliban. We should let the presidential candidates know that we will not allow them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.