We are in Iraq to Stay

America's political elites have a secret they don't intend to share with the voters. 

Democrats claim to want our military out of Iraq more or less immediately, though only three of them have the guts to vote that way. President Bush promises we will stay until the job is done and no longer.  Both camps know full well that nobody holding elective office in Washington D.C. today will live to see the end of our military presence in Iraq.  It is quite likely that nobody now numbered among the living will still be drawing breath when the last American soldiers come home from Iraq, even taking into account advances in medical technology. 

A victorious nation either establishes a permanent troop presence on the battlefield or it loses the fruits of victory.  A win or a draw followed by retreat will always degenerate into a defeat.  If there is such a thing as a law of history, this is it.  Consider just the few examples from our own short history. 

Two hundred and twenty years after the Revolutionary War we still have troops along the east coast of North America.  A hundred and sixty years after the Mexican—American War we still have troops in the Southwest.  A hundred and forty years after the Civil War we still have troops in the states of the Confederacy.  Sixty years after World War II we still have troops in Germany and Japan.  Fifty Years after the Korean War we still have troops guarding Seoul. 

We left Cuba after occupations in 1906 and 1912 (retaining only the naval base at Guantanamo Bay).  Fidel Castro is our reward.  We left Europe after World War I and we got World War II.  We left Vietnam after we had bought a stalemate with 50,000 lives and the result was our most humiliating defeat. 

When you leave, you lose.  Defeat is the only exit strategy and in this instance defeat would be catastrophic.  The stakes could not be higher. 

Everybody with a firing synapse recognizes that the status quo ante bellum in the Middle East was unacceptable.  The status quo gave us 9/11.  If we fail to change it dramatically, the status quo is likely to cost us our power, our wealth and millions of American lives.  Terrorism is nothing less than an Islamic challenge to America's world leadership.  Either we rise to the challenge and crush the challengers or the Islamofascists will realize their dream of replacing America at the apex of the world pecking order and, at a minimum, our way of life will die. 

To date, the invasion of Iraq has been our only real response to the Islamic challenge.  The Democrat argument that Iraq is a distraction from the real war in Afghanistan is comically inverted.  The war in Afghanistan was a game of whack—the—mole far from the enemy's center of gravity.  Iraq is a major oil—producing nation.  It is on the Arabian Peninsula, which is the source of both the wealth and the religious ideology that makes the enemy so dangerous.  Doing in Iraq what we did in Germany and Japan would be a major step toward the defeat of Islamofascism. 

That is our goal in Iraq and we can only achieve it by staying indefinitely, just as we have in Germany and Japan. For the foreseeable future, the American military will have to be the dominant force in Iraq to make civil war unprofitable.  No faction has anything to gain from a fight as long as our troops are there to bolster the other factions and crush any revolt.  The Sunni 'insurgency' has been busily proving that point for some time.  As long as American troops are in Iraq, democracy is the best available deal for all concerned.  If they left, the centripetal forces in Iraqi society would quickly tear apart the government we are building.  The people in charge of that government, whoever they are, will beg us to stay because their physical survival will depend on us. 

And stay we will.  We will secure an ally precisely where we need one most.  We will also maintain a powerful military presence in a strategically vital location.  In the event that we need to kill people and break things in either Syria or Iran, the bases we are establishing in Iraq will be extremely useful, if not essential.  Even if our Arab and Persian War never escapes beyond the borders of Iraq (which seems absurdly unlikely), our military presence within those borders will put pressure on our surviving enemies just as our army in Germany once pressured the Soviet Union. 

Even if the Democrats ride an anti—war wave back into power, our troops will remain in Iraq.  This is not because the Democrats are incapable of doing anything as monumentally stupid as abandoning Iraq.  The Democrat Party was, after all, largely responsible for our abandonment of Vietnam.  No American government will abandon Iraq because doing so would be to take ownership of the next terrorist attack on our homeland.  

If America ever left Iraq the terrorists would crow about their great victory.  They would announce that we are weakened and vulnerable and call for renewed attacks against us.  An attack would come, and the administration that retreated on the verge of victory could not escape the blame for it.  Very few politicians in either party are reckless enough to take the kind of political risk that withdrawing from Iraq would entail.  All the talk of timetables is empty political posturing. 

The whole public debate about Iraq is a frivolous sham.  It proceeds on the assumption that we have options which are, in fact, long since foreclosed.  We are at war; it is a time to be serious.  The foolish whining about withdrawal is profoundly unserious. 

Power begets responsibility.  We are the world's dominant power and our position comes at a price.  Somebody will always be itching to knock us off our perch as long as we occupy it.  We will have to deal with each challenge as it arises or suffer the consequences of a hard fall.  It's tough at the top.  On the other hand, if you aren't the lead dog, the view never changes.

Grow up America.  You have to take the bitter with the sweet.  A permanent American presence in Iraq may be a bitter pill, but it is one we will just have to swallow. 

J. Peter Mulhern is a frequent contributor. He is a lawyer in the Washington, DC area.