Rattling the Cage: Fight, not flight

It's time for Americans to grow up and do what it takes to win in Iraq.

[N]one of the intelligence officers who spoke with Time or their ranking superior officers could provide a plausible road map toward stability in Iraq... Yet despite their gloom, every one of the officers favors continuing indeed, augmenting the war effort. If the US leaves, they say, the chaos in central Iraq could threaten the stability of the entire Middle East. And al-Qaida operatives like al-Zarqawi could have a relatively safe base of operations in the Sunni triangle. "We have never taken this operation seriously enough," says a retired senior military official with experience in Iraq. "We have never provided enough troops. We have never provided enough equipment, or the right kind of equipment. We have never worked the intelligence part of the war in a serious, sustained fashion. We have failed the Iraqi people, and we have failed our troops. From Time magazine's September 26 cover story, "Iraq Is It Too Late to Win the War?" Like the overwhelming majority of the world, I was against America starting the war in Iraq. I thought it was reckless. In retrospect, we in the overwhelming majority were right. But that was then. Now, two-and-a-half years later, America (and, to a much lesser extent, England) is up to its neck in Iraq, and it's got the fate of 25 million Iraqis in its hands. Moreover, what the US does in Iraq will affect the fate of the whole world. So whether the US should have gone to war isn't relevant anymore. All that matters is what should be done now, with an eye to the future. Unfortunately, there is only one clear, understandable proposal unilateral withdrawal. It holds that since everybody sees by now that the war is a disaster, that the killing keeps getting worse, America should cut its losses and save the lives of American soldiers by packing up and getting out of Iraq ASAP. Agree with this or not, it's at least a cogent argument. What do people opposed to withdrawal have to say? What "road map" do they have for calming the situation down, for getting the upper hand over the insurgents which, by the way, are much more modest goals than "victory" and "democracy"? The most anybody will suggest is adding about 30,000 soldiers to the armed forces, mainly by offering greater financial inducements to volunteers. But the US has more than 140,000 soldiers in Iraq now an extra 30,000 wouldn't enlarge the fighting force, it would only keep the on-duty troops, reserve and National Guard from breaking down under the strain of the war. As for how to overcome the insurgency, America's pro-war camp has nothing to say. And there's a simple reason for their haplessness: You can't draft Americans to fight in Iraq. They don't want to go, and no political leader will try to make them go. No war proponent in the "chattering classes" is willing to suggest making them go, either. You can't even raise Americans' taxes for the war in Iraq. Far from raising taxes you can't even take away their tax cuts for the war in Iraq. Well, I'm very sorry, but it's time for Americans to grow up, to stop being the spoiled, shallow adolescents they've become. There is this thing in life called responsibility. When you make a mess, you have to clean it up. Or, as Colin Powell, the only grown-up ever to be employed by the Bush administration, put it in the case of Iraq, Pottery Barn rules apply: You break it, you own it. The US, with divine intentions and amazing recklessness, broke Iraq. It cannot walk away from this mess. If it does, there would be a bloodbath. What's more, the worst killers on earth would win a colossal, historic victory. America's self-confidence would be crippled. Al-Qaida and its like would be supercharged on every continent where Muslims live. The defeat of the US by the insurgents in Iraq would have an electrifying effect across much of the world, and an intimidating effect across the rest of it. And this is where things are headed. The American public is fed up with the war, and the Bush administration knows it. All the energy, all the momentum, is for winding down, wrapping things up, looking for a way out. When bombs go off and Iraqis and US soldiers get killed, only the antiwar people have anything to say: Bring the troops home now. Meanwhile, anybody who thinks bringing the troops home would be a catastrophe tries to pretend that nothing's going wrong, that things will work out. They have no idea how, but what more can they say, what more can they propose? Can't everybody see that America is stretched to the limit, that it's fighting as hard as it can? I, for one, don't see that at all. That's as far from the truth as can be. If America brings back the draft and raises taxes the sort of things countries normally do in wartime it can put a couple of hundred thousand more soldiers in Iraq, equip them properly and try to put the insurgents down "in a serious, sustained fashion." With enough soldiers and money, America can aim to do in Iraq what Israel did in the West Bank with Operation Defensive Shield overpower the terrorists until terror becomes almost futile. Okay, you say, but what's the exit strategy? The exit strategy is to train enough Iraqi soldiers to take over the job, but if that day never comes, to stay on in Iraq however long it takes, decades if necessary, until bin Ladenism and Saddamism collapse like Communism collapsed because they had proven such a failure that nobody wanted them anymore. Until then, America cannot afford to lose the war in Iraq, and it is being lost. Somebody has to start telling the American people that they have to do whatever is necessary to keep that from happening. I say bring back the draft and raise taxes. To anyone who opposes bringing the troops home now what do you say?