Monday, October 17, 2005

Iraqi referendum should not signal beginning of end of American troop deployment

A successful constitutional referendum in Iraq is just another arrow in the quiver of liberals’, and some conservatives’, arguments that the United States should start withdrawing from Iraq. While the referendum is another step towards full Iraqi sovereignty and liberal democracy, the government and the country is still perched precariously on the brink of chaos, and it does not possess the infrastructure or organized resources to ensure success. Only American involvement can give Iraqis a chance at long-standing freedom.

First, Iraq does not have the organized resources and standing infrastructure to guarantee long-term stability if the United States withdraws its military forces from the Iraqi theater. The Iraqi defense forces have between one and three combat-ready battalions with upwards of 80 other battalions in varying states of readiness. This is hardly the amount necessary to protect a country the size of Texas. Iraqis are looking for their government, their military, and the American military to provide stability, security, and justice and to restore the order of law. While this is mostly the case and certainly a great improvement over the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, it is still a far cry from the conditions necessary for democracy and freedom to take hold and flourish. President Bush’s strategy, rightly so, is to create a bulwark in the Middle East where others can see democracy in action and the value of freedom; however, it will need to take root to be a successful example.

Additionally, the United States needs to show that it is truly committed to peace and democracy in the Middle East. Even talk about drawdowns of American forces show Iraqis, our allies, and the terrorists that the United States is not committed to the long-term investment necessary to guarantee creating a stable democracy in the Middle East. As long as the enemy cannot know if and when the deployment of American troops will end, it cannot plan on an end game. However, word of American withdrawal will reinvigorate recruitment and give the terrorists a reason to believe that they can win. Additionally, it will show Iraqis that America does not truly believe that democracy and stability in the Middle East are important.

Establishing a democracy and freedoms in a country is not a process that, even in the best of conditions, will take two years. It will take several years, and the United States, Iraqi leadership, and the coalition of the willing must be willing to commit the blood, treasure, troops, and time necessary for democratic roots to take hold. This is a theater that the United States cannot afford to lose to the terrorists. One victory will make winning the longer war on terror exponentially more difficult, as those who would think that they cannot hope to take on the United States will become emboldened. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in ensuring that the Iraqi constitutional referendum is one step in the march towards democracy, and not a high point in the war on terror.

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