Testing Congress: The Price

What's in it for us if we leave Iraq now? What would we gain?

Not peace. Not in the Middle East.

How could Iran not be emboldened, Syria not be more disruptive, Saudi Arabia not counter them both, other Arab nations not leap in, Al Qaeda not bait them all to fight to the death until it alone is left standing? Al Qaeda  - "The Base" - this time based in the Middle East, this time fueled by more than zeal. How can chaos not reign if the US aborts now?

Would greater respect be ours? For a nation sacrificing 3,000 of its own, 10,000 of those of its newest ally, spending billions by the day - and then saying: Oops? Respect?

New allies? Who could trust us then?

Solidify old allies? Who'd stand with us then - Musharraf?

Containment worked because we thwarted the Soviet Union wherever it went, offset its arsenal, outspent it until it collapsed.

But cower at homemade bombs and suicide blasts?

Mutually Assured Destruction? Once armed as it will be unless stopped, Al Qaeda would be thrilled to play that game. And couldn't lose no matter how it ended.

Those breezy about what could happen after Iraq are just as cavalier about what did happen before.

Before Iraq, as the 9/11 Commission wrote:
"U.S. intelligence estimates put the total number of fighters who underwent instruction in Bin Ladin-supported camps in Afghanistan from 1996 through 9/11 at 10,000 to 20,000."
"10,000 to 20,000": how many more in the six years since, trained now in Pakistan? How many tens of thousand on top of that after we leave Al Qaeda floating on oil, thick with platoons of future Lee Harveys tutored by America's best?

Before Iraq
"Al Qaeda continued meanwhile to collaborate closely with the many Middle Eastern groups-in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia, and elsewhere-with which it had been linked when Bin Ladin was in Sudan. It also reinforced its London base and its other offices around Europe, the Balkans, and the Caucasus."
Before Iraq: were American troops then fighting in Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, England, the Caucasus? But Al Qaeda was there. And still is.

Before Iraq
"The inner core of al Qaeda continued to be a hierarchical top-down group with defined positions, tasks, and salaries. Most but not all in this core swore fealty (or bayat) to Bin Ladin. Other operatives were committed to Bin Ladin or to his goals and would take assignments for him, but they did not swear bayat and maintained, or tried to maintain, some autonomy. A looser circle of adherents might give money to al Qaeda or train in its camps but remained essentially independent.

"Nevertheless, they constituted a potential resource for al Qaeda."
Before America set one toe in Iraq, Saddam was offering Al Qaeda safe haven in Iraq. And he was simultaneously plotting, as weapons inspector Charles Duelfer documented to Congress.
"Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq's WMD capability-which was essentially destroyed in 1991-after sanctions were removed and Iraq's economy stabilized"
He then did more than plot.
"By 2000-2001, Saddam had managed to mitigate many of the effects of sanctions and undermine their international support. Iraq was within striking distance of a de facto end to the sanctions regime, both in terms of oil exports and the trade embargo, by the end of 1999."
Sanctions ending - including the embargo - by the end of 1999: before Iraq. And Saddam was no lone wolf.
"Discussions were underway with North Korea regarding technology associated with a 1,300 km system-presumably the No Dong. Other foreign support was being used or solicited."
"A variety of foreign companies with high-level political connections acted as middlemen to import technology into Iraq for missile and UAV development. These actions clearly violated UN sanctions."
"Foreign missile experts worked in Iraq in violation of UN sanctions from 1998 until just before the start of OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom]."
Operation Iraqi Freedom slammed the brakes on Saddam.
"In addition to preserved capability, we have clear evidence of his intent to resume WMD as soon as sanctions were lifted."
"Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability-in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks"
He would do anything not to be outdone by Iran. Saddam
  • "became concerned about the growing military imbalance between Iran and Iraq; Iran was making significant advances in WMD while Iraq was being deprived of the opportunity to maintain or advance its WMD capacity."
  • "believed that Iran had benefited from the breakup of the former Soviet Union by gaining access to WMD as well as conventional technologies."
  • "indicated that he would develop the weapons necessary to counter any Iranian threat."
Knowing all that - as Congress if it lives up to its oath should - leaders still brand Iraq "Bush's war" and seek high-fives as they yank troops from Iraq to send them even God knows not where. 

Troops are the ones with lives on the line - and re-up by the thousands to finish the job. Bush wants to finish it so his successor doesn't have to. Congress wants cameos in Michael Moore's next gig.

Muslims in the Middle East know their nations have failed them: Iraq offers a fresh if shaky start, but only if Muslims go back to the basics of their faith.

No outsider can tell Muslims what those basics are: but they can't be murder, they can't be rape, they can't be suicide-bombing kids. Islam will not look to Reid, Levin, Durbin, Schumer, Pelosi, Murtha to renew itself, but it might well look to Jefferson.

If it is self-evident that all men are created equal, have inalienable rights to life and liberty, that governments exist to secure these rights and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, then Muslims know where to start.

Iraq is not just a military battle, not just a political one: it is fundamentally a spiritual war. No wonder Congressional leaders don't understand.
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