Cliff May

A growing number of Democrats have falsely accused Sen. John McCain of “promising” 100 years of war in Iraq. In fact, McCain’s point was that the presence of American forces promotes stability. That’s been the case in Europe and Asia where Americans have been stationed for more than half a century. It’s been true in the Balkans since the 1990s when President Clinton sent troops there. America’s military plays a beneficial role when it eliminates America’s enemies; it does so also when it stays on to prevent those enemies from reemerging.

But there is a hard truth that McCain did not state: A hundred years from now Americans might still be fighting militant Islamists in Iraq and other places. What could be worse than that? A hundred years from now America and the West could have been defeated by militant Islamists.

Al-Qaeda, Iran’s ruling mullahs, Hezbollah and others militant jihadis have told us what they are fighting for. The well-known Islamist, Hassan al-Banna, described the movement’s goals succinctly: “to dominate … to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.” He said that in 1928. Who would have believed then that his heirs would acquire the wealth, power and lethality they enjoy today? Who can say where they may be a hundred years from now? Who can say where the West will be? Survival is not an entitlement. It must be earned by every generation.

So the most important question not asked of General David Petreaus when he testified before Congress this week is how to maximize our chances of winning the long, global war in which we are engaged.

Retreating from key battlefields would not appear to be the most promising strategy. Yet opponents of the Iraq war continue to argue for a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. They were unmoved by the most pungent point Petraeus made regarding progress in Iraq. “We are fighting al-Qaeda every day,” he said. “We have our teeth in their jugular and we need to keep it there."

Senator Carl Levin, in remarks just prior to the questioning of Petraeus, had next to nothing to say about al-Qaeda or the Iranian-backed militias Americans and Iraqis also have been battling. Instead, he insisted that Iraq remains mired in a civil war, a talking point long past its sell-by date.

Other opponents of the Petraeus mission contended that pulling out of Iraq would free up American forces for Afghanistan. But Iraq is the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. Afghanistan, by contrast, is a strategic backwater.

Cliff May

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