The Magazine

Abandoning Iraq

Does Rep. Murtha understand the consequences of immediate withdrawal from Iraq?

Nov 28, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 11 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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REP. JACK MURTHA has had a distinguished congressional career. But his outburst last Thursday was breathtakingly irresponsible. Nowhere in his angry and emotional call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq did the Pennsylvania Democrat bother to ask, much less answer, the most serious questions his proposal raises. What would be the likely outcome in Iraq if the United States pulled out? Does Murtha actually believe the Iraqi people could fight the al Qaeda terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists by themselves once American forces left? He does not say. In fact, he knows perfectly well that the Iraqi people are not yet capable of defending themselves against the monsters in their midst and that, therefore, a U.S. withdrawal would likely lead to carnage on a scale that would dwarf what is now occurring in Iraq.

But that would be just the beginning. If U.S. troops were withdrawn and the Iraqi people were not able to defeat the terrorists and Saddam loyalists, what would happen? What if Zarqawi and his al Qaeda allies were able to make common cause with the Baathists to turn Iraq into a terrorist state or to provide a haven for terrorists, complete with an oil supply to finance their global activities? And what of Iraq's neighbors, which include Iran, Syria, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia? They would likely decide that they could not afford to let a vacuum develop in Iraq or allow their adversaries to establish a base there. All these nations would contemplate military intervention in Iraq, directly or indirectly through the arming of allies. The possibility of a regional conflict erupting among any or all of these powers could not be excluded. Is this is a tolerable outcome for the United States?

In fact, Murtha does seem to be aware of the disasters that are almost certain to follow the immediate withdrawal he demands. He calls for the creation of "a quick reaction force in the region." He calls for "an over-the-horizon presence of Marines." And he calls for the United States "to diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq." We have too much respect for Murtha to believe that he seriously imagines we would be able through diplomacy alone to bring "security and stability" to Iraq. But the question is, when the inevitable disaster unfolded as a result of his proposed withdrawal, what would be his plan for the "quick reaction force" and "over-the-horizon presence" of the Marines? It seems he would have us withdraw our forces, hand a monumental moral, political, and military victory to the terrorists in Iraq and all over the world--only to take us back into war when the inevitable disaster began to unfold.

Murtha, of course, claims that the U.S. occupation is the primary problem in Iraq and that "our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency. They are united against U.S. forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence." This is nonsense. For many months now, the insurgents have been shifting their attacks away from U.S. and coalition forces and directing them at Iraqis instead. Iraqis now make up the overwhelming majority of casualties resulting from insurgent attacks. This shift is evidence not only of the effectiveness of our protective measures, but also of the growing vitality of the Iraqi political process, which the insurgents, according to their own statements, fear and hate more than the U.S. military presence. As for the rise in the number of "incidents" against U.S. forces to which Murtha points, those numbers do not distinguish between incidents initiated by insurgents and those initiated by Americans. Recent U.S. operations have generated a large number of incidents, indeed--almost all of them supporting the coalition's goals and harming the insurgents.

We do not pretend that all is well in Iraq, although things are starting to look a bit better. We agree with Murtha, and have written repeatedly, that the military is stretched thin and needs to be increased. The congressman, however, is in a position to do something about that. We, for one, would support any legislation he offered to increase the size of the Army and the military budget in this time of war.

In 1946, George Orwell remarked that "the quickest way of ending a war is to lose it, and if one finds the prospect of a long war intolerable, it is natural to disbelieve in the possibility of victory."Victory is in fact possible, though it will require a longer war than anyone would like, but not so long a war as to be intolerable. What would be intolerable would be to lose to the terrorists in Iraq. Immediate withdrawal from Iraq is a prescription for catastrophe. Far from extricating ourselves from a crisis, we would have driven ourselves into an even deeper crisis. It is no favor to the members of the armed forces who have served or are serving in Iraq to declare now that all their efforts and sacrifices are in vain. The way to honor their sacrifices is by winning.

--Robert Kagan and William Kristol