Sunday, January 14, 2007

On Kelly: "The War We Must Not Lose"

Jack Kelly is a former Marine and Green Beret who was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration. He is presently a columnist at the Post-Gazette, and can be described as a reliably hawkish unilateralist and free-market fundamentalist. As a special feature of the Comet, each Sunday we will attempt to debunk the dangerous and foolhardy ideas put forth by Pittsburgh's most prominent ultra-conservative.

The best place to take issue with this column is its title. It is certainly agreed that we are in a global war against Islamists committed to our destruction. It is also true that the war in Iraq has tragically become a front in this "War on Terror."

Taking Kelly back to the early days of the Iraq invasion, I would remind him that our president was persistent in speaking of the "Battle of Baghdad." Bush's point was that Iraq is but one battle in a larger war. His intention was to steel us for further military action.

President Bush was correct in this -- so retreat from the Battle of Baghdad does not equate to surrender in the War on Terror. Military history is littered with the corpses of generals too proud to execute a strategic retreat, too galled at allowing the enemy one night's celebration, too arrogant to cede ground to "those people." General Washington made a career of conducting retreat after brilliant retreat, until he had the enemy right where he wanted them.

The notion that withdrawal from Iraq would be an utter calamity is well established, but so is the notion that withdrawal could serve us well. Many retired generals have argued that our continued presence now only inflames passions and provides targets, not to mention shields the Iraqi government from real responsibility.

We have heard that America is addicted to oil; we could well say that Iraq is addicted to Americans.

The bulk of Kelly's column is essentially an emotional plea: a pep-talk (or dressing-down) feeding the very pride that serves us so poorly when conditions call for a strategic retreat.

Our parents and grandparents realized the fascists we were fighting then were really nasty guys; that living in a world in which they were dominant would be intolerable.

If liberals can be chided for thinking every war is Vietnam, conservatives can certainly be chided for likening every war to World War II. Here Kelly is appealing to one of the war's original constituencies -- World War II nostalgists and romantics.

If Manhattan disappears in a mushroom cloud, or oil prices hit $200 a barrel, the effects will be felt even in million-dollar homes, and on the campuses of Ivy League universities.

And here, Kelly whips up another constituency: the terrorized. The very purpose of a terrorist attack is to radicalize the afflicted population and thereby destabilize them, or draw them into a disadvantage. (As to high oil prices, the nation could certainly mobilize to devalue oil, but this is not the kind of national sacrifice that Kelly would like to discuss.)

What we should have done from the get-go was appoint the man we wanted as prime minister (Iwad Allawi was that guy) and introduced democracy gradually, beginning at the local level, then moving up to the provincial and national levels. You have to walk before you can run.

Kelly may have a point here, but much like the liberal who whines that the we oughtn't have gone to war, this ship has sailed. His suggestion that Bush is finally getting tough with Maliki is wholly unsupported, and is the chief worry of even conservative punditry.

Moving forward, the best thing we can do is announce that we are leaving Iraq to its own devices for about two years, at which point we will reassess our interests in that theater. We should withdraw all but a northern force to insulate the Kurds from the worst-case excesses of the present Shi'ite government, and a battery of military and diplomatic advisers.

A large portion of the withdrawn troops should return home, to strengthen our depleted strategic reserve. But another large portion should redeploy to Afghanistan, where a friendly democratic ally needs our help, and where a notorious criminal is emboldening generations of future terrorists just by surviving.

These would be the first steps in a true Plan for Victory -- not for the Battle of Baghdad, but certainly for the War We Must Not Lose.

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