Was it a planned one-two punch? On Saturday, New York Times columnist Frank Rich declared that "we have lost in Iraq." Today, in The Time Is Now, his Times colleague Bob Herbert flatly calls for surrender. No conditions, no time-table. As Herbert starkly puts it: "it is time to pull the troops out of harm’s way."
Herbert says "it is wrong to continue sending fresh bodies after those already lost." He raises the "moral question" of justifying "the lives that will be lost between now and the final day of our departure." But Herbert ignores another looming moral question: the lives that will be lost if we hastily retreat.
We flinch at the awful news of perhaps 100 Iraqi civilians killed every day. In the cold calculation of war, that makes for some tens of thousands per year. As bad as that is, it could be much, much worse. Does Herbert forget the consequences for innocent civilians the last time the US took advice like his and surrendered? Millions died in Vietnam and Cambodia. Does Herbert doubt that a similar bloodbath could occur in Iraq?
There is also the question of the loss of American lives at home. Chief Iraqi government spokesman Ali Aldabbagh had this to say when I interviewed him recently in Baghdad:
"On 9/11, America was attacked by men coming from Afghanistan. If the US were to hastily withdraw from Iraq, future 9/11s could be launched by men coming from Iraq." In other words, an Iraq abandoned to winds of terror would surely become a launching pad for attacks against the United States.
Turning on the news and learning of the deaths of our brave American troops is excruciating. But as awful as it is, we cannot lose sight of the fact that things could, and almost surely would, become much worse if we were to take Herbert's advice and abruptly leave. Abandoning Iraq to a cruel fate while exposing America to an Iraq turned Al Qaeda haven is no solution. It is the opposite of the kind of moral response Herbert claims to seek.
Hell-Freezes-Over Update: Stop the presses - Pat Buchanan agrees with neo-conservatives! Appearing on this morning's 'Today' show, Buchanan ridiculed the ISG recommendations: "John McCain and the neo-conservatives believe [the ISG approach] is a formula for defeat and frankly I think they're right. The Baker Commission is really not credible when it says we're in 'a grave and deteriorating situation but it will get better if we pull out all American combat units.'"
View Buchanan video here.
Finkelstein recently returned from Iraq. Contact him at email@example.com