July 18, 2007
By Alan W. Dowd

As we go to press, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is hosting a rare all-night filibuster in the Capitol, hoping to advance a bill pulling troops out of Iraq in 120 days. In itself, the filibuster is a meaningless gesture intended to embarrass those who support winning the war in Iraq, but it occurs against the backdrop of the Democratic Party's desire to snatch defeat from the jaws of potential victory. The troops are surging. Baghdad is hemorrhaging. Democrats are pouncing. Republicans are defecting. And it appears the Iraqi front of America’s War on Terror is crumbling.

Last week alone, the New York Times sketched out a Dunkirk-style retreat from Iraq; the White House conceded that the Iraqi government is falling short of most of its goals; half-a-dozen Republican senators signed on to a plan to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq by next March; and the House voted 223-201 to complete withdrawing by April 1, 2008.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the comments of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-CA, were representative of the House’s anti-surge/pro-pullout majority: “History will show, Mr. President, that your war was a failure, but today this Congress stood up to you and said: enough is enough.” Surveying this political carnage, Sen. Carl Levin, D-MI, concluded, “The open-ended occupation of a Muslim country by Western countries has played into the hands of al-Qaeda.”

Thus, Congress is at once shirking any responsibility for launching this war and laying the groundwork to blame the president for the spread of terrorism that will follow America’s retreat from this war.  

In truth, the Iraq war was authorized by 296 House members and 77 senators. Among other things, that bipartisan supermajority:

  • Declared that members of al Qaeda were known to be in Iraq;
  • Asserted that “Iraq’s ongoing support for international terrorist groups, combined with its development of weapons of mass destruction in direct violation of its obligations under the 1991 cease-fire and other United Nations Security Council resolutions, make clear that it is in the national security interests of the United States and in furtherance of the war on terrorism that all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions be enforced, including through the use of force if necessary;”
  • Explained that the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 “expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;” and 
  • Noted that Congress had already authorized the President “to use United States Armed Forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678 (1990) in order to achieve implementation of Security Council Resolution 660, 661, 662, 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674, and 677.”

In other words, this is not “the president’s war.” It is America’s war. Those who call it anything else reveal much about themselves. Members of Congress have every right—some would say even a duty—to oppose the war and to change their minds. But they must not be allowed to change the historical record, to wash their hands of any responsibility, to “revise and extend” their own votes and actions.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, has warned his colleagues about post-withdrawal consequences. “It is a dangerous illusion,” he said “to believe that we can depart Iraq and the inevitable killing fields and terrorist violence will not follow us in retreat—even to our own shores.”  

In a sense, Lieberman is arguing that even if going into Iraq in 2003 was a mistake, would surrendering Iraq to the jihadists, abandoning Iraq’s democrats and ceding Iraq to the same creed and clan that spawned September 11 correct that mistake?

Reflecting the uncertainty and unease of the American people, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s answer seems to be yes and no. “Six months have passed; 600 more Americans have died; $60 billion more has been spent. Sectarian violence has not diminished,” he said of the surge. “If we wait until September, more Americans will die, more American treasure will be depleted, the Middle East will become ever more destabilized, and our efforts to focus on the real war on terror will be impeded.”

Given that litany, one would expect Reid to demand that all the troops be pulled out of harm’s way immediately. But he hasn’t. In fact, the bill he cosponsored with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, as Reid himself concedes, “called for American troops to remain in Iraq to do counterterrorism, to protect our assets in Iraq, to train the Iraqis.” In fact, Reid is open to leaving “tens of thousands of troops in Iraq.”

It seems that Reid and the rest of those who want to short-circuit the surge have some explaining to do. If they really want to bring the troops home, why do they want to leave tens of thousands of troops in Iraq? If they want to fight the War on Terror, why do they want to retreat from what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Malaki calls “the front line in this struggle”? If they don’t want to give the surge—a plan that was crafted by Gen. David Petraeus, a plan focused on training, security and counterterrorism—the full nine months to succeed or fail, why did they approve it in the first place? For that matter, why did they vote 81-0 to confirm Petraeus? And how, exactly, is the Patraeus plan different than the mission Reid and the other generals in the Senate have in mind for U.S. forces?

What Lieberman and a dwindling number of his colleagues understand is that Iraq’s postwar war is a test of wills, a test from which America has flinched too many times. Many of us know the list by heart—Tehran, Beirut, the first World Trade Center bombing, Mogadishu, Khobar Towers, Kenya and Tanzania, the Cole.

America’s enemies want to add Iraq to that list, and they don’t want to stop there. As Musab al-Zarqawi promised before he was killed, “We fight today in Iraq, and tomorrow in the land of the two Holy Places, and after there the West.” 

That alone should be enough to keep America’s political leaders up all night.