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Remember Who We're Fighting

4:33 PM, Apr 24, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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The Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon has an excellent piece in the Washington Times today. You can read it in its entirety here, but it is worth excerpting at length.

O'Hanlon compares the terrorists and Saddam loyalists we are now fighting in Iraq to the enemies this country has faced throughout its history:

Against this historical backdrop, two facts stand out about our collection of enemies in Iraq, with a particular focus on the ex-Ba'athists and the terrorists who produced the bulk of the violence over the conflict's first three years. First, they are a small group relative to the population within which they are found. And second, even by the standards of our nation's past enemies, they are a despicable lot. . . .

Certainly the British were not systematic human-rights abusers or mass murderers, even if they taxed without representation two centuries ago. Many of our enemies of the 19th century were groups or countries we fought to gain land and resources, not to combat a bankrupt or threatening ideology. Without wanting to push the point too far, while many of our 20th century foes were indeed horrendous, some like the Viet Cong at least claimed to offer a vision of a better society, or had legitimate anticolonial origins, or otherwise possessed at least some redeeming attributes.

Not so al Qaeda and former Ba'athist extremists in Iraq. Their only purpose in violence has been to tear down, not to build up an alternative vision they genuinely support. They are ruthless killers who often seem to kill just for the pleasure of it. To put it somewhat more precisely, ex-Saddamists want to restore a Sunni autocracy, and al Qaeda wants to return the region to the seventh century and is willing to kill anybody along the way to do so. There is no merit in either vision according to any serious cultural or moral code in the world today.

O'Hanlon also conveys the importance of obtaining victory in Iraq, and conversely, the dangers of defeat:

But for those who would give up on this war, it is important to bear in mind what that would mean -- and who would be prevailing if we indeed conceded the fight. In this regard, I disagree with the characterization of the war reportedly offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his recent meeting with President Bush. Understandably fed up with the violence in Iraq, and understandably critical of the many mistakes made by this administration over the years in prosecuting the war, Mr. Reid nonetheless went too far. He told Mr. Bush that the president's concern over his legacy should not lead him to keep the nation engaged in a losing war. . . .

However, even if Mr. Bush began this war, America as a nation is now fighting it. And Americans, along with our allies and with the overwhelming majority of Iraqis who want a peaceful life, will be the ones to lose it to a collection of thugs and ruthless killers if we withdraw. National pride should not of course keep us in a war we have indeed lost. But we should give the surge a chance, and consider a number of "Plan Bs" if it fails, before giving up this important fight to this heinous foe in this crucial part of the world.

Go read the whole thing. O'Hanlon makes clear that he is not enamored of the surge, and he is no fan of the administration, but he appears to be one of the few liberals who understands just how devastating a Congressionally mandated retreat would be for the interests of this country--and for the 99.9 percent of Iraqis who aren't al Qaeda.