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There They Go Again

Democrats seek flexibility on Iraq while denying it to the nation's policy-makers.

11:00 PM, Dec 12, 2005 • By PAUL MIRENGOFF
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The facile claim that America's presence fuels the terrorist insurgency also contains a heavy dose of solipsism. Unlike certain Democrats, the enemies of a free Iraq have important policy-based objectives that transcend their feelings about U.S. foreign policy. The terrorist insurgency consists of three main elements--al Qaeda, Baathists, and "rejectionists." The stated objective of al Qaeda is to establish a base of operations in the heart of the Middle East, like the one it once had in Afghanistan. If the United States announces its intent to withdraw, al Qaeda's incentive to establish that base will not vanish--all that will disappear is the sense of any long-term obstacle to its achievement.

The goal of the Baathists is to reestablish an authoritarian, Saddam-style regime in the Sunni triangle and as much of the rest of the country as possible. As with al Qaeda, that goal will endure if the United States says it intends to leave Iraq. Similarly the rejectionists--those (mostly) Sunnis whose fear and loathing of Shiites causes them to reject coexistence--will have no incentive to lay down their arms if the United States says it plans to leave. On the contrary, the realization that the United States will no longer be around to push for the accommodation of Sunnis within an Iraqi state would likely increase the intensity of rejectionist sentiment.

SOME ADVOCATES of Cut-and-Run Lite argue that if the various factions within the Iraqi government understand that the U.S. will soon depart, they will be forced to hang together in order to avoid hanging separately. But this, too, amounts to wishful thinking. We know that the cooperation achieved so far among factions has largely been the product of head-banging by the United States. To the extent that the parties believe America is on its way out, our leverage disappears. In any case, increased inter-faction cooperation is no substitute for adequate security forces. Without such forces, which only the United States presently can train, the elements of the government will "hang," whether they come together or choose to separate.

Thus, the discussion returns to the crucial question of when Iraqi security forces will be able to defeat or nullify the terrorist insurgency more or less on their own. Because we cannot answer that question today, it makes no sense as a matter of policy to set a timetable for withdrawal. But mainstream Democratic positions about Iraq have always been about political calculation, not policy considerations.

Paul Mirengoff is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Power Line.