Cliff May

Petraeus also is focusing on Anbar Province in western Iraq. A year ago, that area was given up as lost, so firmly was it under al-Qaeda’s control. But the more the region’s traditional tribal rulers experienced the reality of al-Qaeda rule – e.g. the baking of children in ovens to teach obedience to their parents (as reported by Michael Yon) – the more they looked for a way to escape the group’s clutches.

Gen. Petraeus and his troops have given them one. If we were to now abandon these people to the tender mercies of al-Qaeda, what message would it send to the world? This message: To be America’s enemy entails minimal risk; but to be America’s friend is hazardous and foolish in the extreme.

The new American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has warned that a hasty departure of American troops would lead to the deaths of many thousands in Iraq and, very likely, a broader regional conflict as well. The benchmarks that were set for the Iraqi government’s performance, he has suggested, may not be the most reliable measure of whether the American military and diplomatic missions are making progress.

More useful indicators might include (1) the level of damage being done to al-Qaeda; (2) the extent to which Iraqis are assuming responsibility for their own security, (3) Iraqi government progress in delivering basic services such as electricity, and (4) whether Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders are working more collaboratively.

It was never anticipated that the Petraeus mission, in its early stages, would lead to settlement of the most difficult issues dividing Iraqis. The idea was rather that those issues could be tackled only when the military mission had brought a reasonable degree of peace and stability to the country.

At this moment, America’s enemies are doing all they can to prevent Gen. Petraeus and his troops from achieving that goal. Washington politicians have to choose whether they want to assist our enemies – or give our military men and women the resources, time and support they need to successfully implement their new strategy and achieve their new objectives. Why is this a tough call for so many of them?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.