I have never been more discouraged by the prevailing attitude in our country than I am now as we face serious choices about the war in Iraq and the consequences of failure.
Four years ago, the U.S. Senate voted 77-23 to authorize the war in Iraq; the House followed suit 296-133. Upwards of 70 percent of us supported removing Saddam Hussein and replacing him with a democratically-elected government.
Today, the poll numbers are virtually reversed. Majorities of Americans now believe going to war was the wrong thing to do, that sectarian violence cannot be resolved anytime soon, and that President Bush’s plan to send deploy more troops is a non-starter.
It’s not hard to understand why. The "news" from Iraq is almost never good – perhaps because it’s much easier to report bombings and body counts from the safety of a news bureau than it is to interview regular Iraqis who, in so many parts of the country, are benefiting from schools, jobs and opportunities that wouldn’t exist were it not for America’s intervention.
That’s not to say that events in Iraq are progressing as we had hoped. Obviously, they are not. However, returning troops and civilians who have visited Iraq report significant accomplishments that you and I almost never learn about on the evening news.
In retrospect, Sen. John McCain was right and Donald Rumsfeld was wrong: we needed more troops to stabilize Iraq. The Bush administration has made other mistakes, too. But wars have a nasty habit of unfolding in unanticipated ways. The notion that the enemy would be defeated and compliant if only we had begun with a better plan is just so incredibly naïve.
Think about it like this: in a sporting event, we know the exact time and place of the game, the identity of all participants, the equipment that will be used, the precise rules that will be enforced by a neutral third party, and the criteria for determining who wins and who loses. We can even study films of previous contests to thoroughly understand the participants’ strengths and weaknesses.
Yet anyone who has ever entered the office pool knows that even the so-called experts are reliably wrong in 25 to 50 percent of their predictions.
Conversely in war, the time and place are purposefully unpredictable. Participants and their weapons can change at any time as allies or enemies seek to influence the outcome.
"Intelligence" is gleaned from sources of questionable reliability and often salted with disinformation. Rules are irrelevant because it’s obviously better to break the rules and live than to obey the rules and die. After all, war is literally a struggle for survival. Participants fight for life or death, freedom or captivity.
With such enormous stakes and so many variables, how can any of us expect that this struggle will end on our timetable. Our troops, our weapons and our technology are overwhelming, but our resolve is anemic.
Our troops risk their lives in order to win – or, at least, to defeat or kill the enemy. It is not acceptable to tell them – much less those who have already fallen – that it’s time to quit simply because those of us back home are tired of hearing bad news.
The men and women who fight under our flag have what it takes to defeat any foe. They overcome more genuine adversity on any given day than most of us face in a year or, more likely, a lifetime. Defeatism back home is the only enemy they cannot overcome because it tells their enemies that it is not necessary to defeat us but to outlast us.
If there is a time to quit, it’s when the commanders in the field tell us that victory is lost and putting our troops at further risk is pointless. But the commanders in the field are not saying that.
Lt. Gen. David Patraeus, now confirmed by the Senate to command our forces in Iraq, is saying just the opposite. Meanwhile pandering, opportunistic politicians in Washington seem more concerned about scoring political points with "non-binding" resolutions that cover their backsides than with backing up our troops and demoralizing our enemies.
Winning in Iraq is not simply fulfilling our commitment to the Iraqi people, whose lives, families and future hang in the balance of our resolve.
Winning in Iraq is not merely supporting the men and women who counted on our resolve when we sent them to war.
Winning in Iraq is convincing Iran, Syria and North Korea, among others, that if forced to fight, we will fight until we prevail and they are defeated.
Most importantly, winning in Iraq is essential to saving lives by persuading our enemies and antagonists that provoking America to war is a fatal mistake for them.
The plan advanced by President Bush and his commanders is not guaranteed to succeed. In war, there are no such guarantees. However, it’s the only plan on the table that still aims toward victory.