There is a right way and a wrong way to handle Iraq’s fledgling democracy. The right way is for American troops to stay there. The wrong way is for them to leave.
Iraqi democracy is sounding less and less like an impossible pipedream and more and more like an achievable reality. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, notes in an editorial this week that
Iraqis are embracing democracy with ferocity and purple-fingered majesty…
When the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, the hope in Washington was that democracy would take hold in Iraq and provide a powerful model for the rest of the Middle East. That is happening now:
The brave Iranians protesting their hijacked 2009 presidential election can see it happening. And so can Egyptians rising in opposition to another term for increasingly frail President Hosni Mubarak. Those who aspire to democracy in countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria are watching, too.
No one knew how or whether democracy would thrive in Iraq after Saddam. It was a calculated risk. A country riven by religion could split further apart.
You could flip on a cable news channel and find all manner of alleged experts predicting that democracy never would thrive in Iraq: This was a cobbled-together country whose long-oppressed citizens didn’t have a sophisticated political heritage on which to rely.
Those predictions were just wrong.
Yes, they were. But then the so-called experts have been, and continue to be, wrong about most things. They certainly were wrong about the insurgency in Iraq, which they didn’t see coming. And they certainly were wrong about the Iraqis’ capacity for self-government, which they have continually dismissed and discounted.
Here’s something else the “experts” have been wrong about: the continuing need for U.S. troops in Iraq and the greater Middle East. The “experts” say that America must withdraw from Iraq and leave Iraq to the Iraqis. And in fact, all U.S. troops are scheduled to be out of the country by the end of 2011. President Obama himself, moreover, remains committed to this objective.
The president is wrong. Leaving Iraq would be a serious mistake. Our presence there is a stabilizing influence which helps to preserve peace and stability, while deterring America’s enemies throughout the greater Middle East.
Of course the United States should not impose itself in a country where it is not wanted. We should consult with and negotiate with the duly elected Iraqi government.
However, I am confident that, given the choice, the Iraqi people and their elected representatives would much prefer to have American troops in their country than not: Because they know that American troops can be trusted to do the right thing, and because they know that American troops help to preserve the peace.
I know that the American people are tired and would like all of our troops to come home. But the reality is that we have invested too much in Iraq to squander our hard-won victory there because of a shortsighted desire to withdraw from the world and take a new holiday from history.
In truth, given the interdependent world in which we now live, and the ability of people to travel, within hours, to the far corners of the earth, America simply cannot afford to turn away from its international responsibilities. We must stay globally engaged.
We must especially stay engaged in Iraq and the Middle East, which are now as vital to our national security as were Europe and Japan at the end of the Second World War.
That’s why even Iraq War critics like Tom Ricks now call for keeping 30,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq well past 2011.
Ricks has been, and remains, far too pessimistic about Iraq. However, he recognizes that “a continued American military presence [there] could help Iraq [to] move forward politically.” Ricks also admits that the presence of U.S. troops deters and prevents human rights abuses, and stops the outbreak of war and violence.
To be sure, the Middle East will remain a center of terrorism and instability for decades. But long-term success in Iraq has the potential to decisively alter the correlation of forces in America’s favor.
It would be wrong and a genuine historical tragedy were we to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by leaving Iraq prematurely. Our troops should remain there indefinitely — even if, and perhaps especially if, the “experts” say otherwise.
John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. He served as a Marine in Iraq in 2003. You can follow him on Twitter: @Guardiano