dick cheney .
(photo credit: AP)
In his speech before AIPAC's annual policy conference on Monday, US Vice President Richard Cheney laid out one of the most powerful expressions of current US policy and strategy heard in some time. It was a war speech, given to an audience that is concerned about the security of America and Israel, and yet, like most Americans, also concerned over how the war in Iraq has turned out.
Indeed, a recent Gallup poll indicated that American Jews viewed the war in Iraq as a mistake by a wider margin than any American religious group.
On Monday, the Union of Reform Judaism reflected this widespread Jewish view by adopting a resolution opposing the surge in troop strength and calling for a "phased, expeditious" withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
In its press release on the adoption of the resolution, Jane Wishner, chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, explained the Reform movement's position thus: "The situation in Iraq is deteriorating rapidly. There's escalating violence, and there's no end in sight. It is clear that the administration has no exit strategy and that it will not develop one except in the context of a specific timetable for withdrawal."
What, then, is Cheney's case to a Jewish audience that shares, or even exceeds, general American skepticism toward the Administration's strategy?
"We are the prime targets of a terror movement that is global in nature and, yes, global in its ambitions," Cheney said. "The leaders of this movement speak openly and specifically of building a totalitarian empire covering the Middle East, extending into Europe and reaching across to the islands of Indonesia - one that would impose a narrow, radical vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, suppresses dissent, brutalizes women and has one of its foremost objectives the destruction of Israel."
Then Cheney spoke directly to those who are already hinting that a nuclear Iran is something the world can live with, like the US did with the Soviet Union: "An enemy with fantasies of martyrdom is not going to sit down at a table for negotiations. Nor can we fight to a standoff, hoping that some form of containment or deterrence will protect our people. The only option for our security and survival is to go on the offensive, facing the threat directly, patiently and systematically, until the enemy is destroyed."
Cheney then described the string of positive developments in 2005, including the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, elections in Afghanistan, and three elections in Iraq. In 2006, however, "freedom's enemies struck back with new tactics... In Lebanon, Hizbullah terrorists who are supported by Iran and Syria, attacked Israel, killing Israelis and sending rockets into civilian areas, and have since worked to undermine Lebanon's democratically elected government. Also in 2006, Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan waged a new offensive against Afghanistan and NATO forces. In Iraq, Sunni and Shi'a extremists engaged in escalating sectarian struggle that continues to this day."
In other words, Cheney painted a picture of a war with ups and downs, but one in which the US is adapting as well. He pointed out that the new general in charge of the new strategy, David Petreaus, said he needed the extra troops to do the job. Finally, he argued that "it is simply not consistent for anyone to demand aggressive action against the menace posed by the Iranian regime, while at the same time acquiescing in a retreat from Iraq that would leave our worst enemies dramatically emboldened and Israel's best friend, the United States, dangerously weakened."
In the meantime, Robert Kagan has written in the Washington Post that there is already evidence that the surge is succeeding. People are coming back to neighborhoods they had fled, and US and Iraqi forces, which had suffered from a lack of intelligence tips from the local population, are now being flooded with more information than they can use.
As we know here, war is not easy. It is not always short or definitive. But the alternative is not to give up, but to win. All Americans should know that leaving in defeat would be disastrous for America and the world. The new strategy in Iraq should be given a chance.