We're on the verge of losing the war in Iraq, and no amount of spin can change the outcome. Yet the administration continues to balk at doing the one thing that could make a difference: namely, putting more U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq to bring a measure of order and security to a nation that is incurring some 3,000 civilian casualties each month. This week, two prominent conservatives, representing different wings of the conservative movement, co-authored an op-ed in The Washington Post urging the administration to do just that. William Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard, and Rich Lowry, the editor of the old-line conservative National Review, call for the president to "order a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad."
As Kristol and Lowry point out, "[w]here more U.S. troops have been deployed, the situation has gotten better. Those neighborhoods intensively patrolled by Americans are safer and more secure." But to date, the Defense Department has merely been moving U.S. troops around Iraq, sending in forces to secure an area and then turning it over to Iraqis to maintain. In Fallujah and elsewhere this has proved costly because Iraqis aren't yet up to the task of holding the territory Americans gain.
It's not enough to move a finite number of American troops around from one hot spot to another. What we need is more boots on the ground. If we'd had twice the number of troops when we first entered Iraq, we might not be fighting there today.
There is no doubt that such a strategy would be politically risky, but there is also little question that it would significantly improve our chances of success on the battlefield. Democrats, whose only answer is to criticize the president for going into Iraq in the first place, can't wait to pull out all American troops, regardless of the consequences. And the administration has responded by tacitly accepting the premise that we need to get our troops out as quickly as possible, while promoting the fiction that soon, very soon, the Iraqis will be able to fend for themselves, at which point we can honorably leave.
The president once again this week tried to enlist the support of the American public for the war in Iraq in his speech commemorating the Sept. 11 attacks. But he's no more likely to win over Americans opposed to his policies with this latest speech than he has been with previous attempts. The fact is, many Americans who supported the decision to go into Iraq have become disillusioned because victory is nowhere in sight. The decline in support for the war in Iraq, as well as the president's own plummeting popularity, is a direct response to the sense we're losing.
It is long past time to quit arguing whether or not we should have gone into Iraq. And the president should stop trying to win that argument -- most people have made up their minds on this issue and can't be persuaded to change them. He'd be better off trying to marshal support for increasing troop strength.
More American troops in Iraq might mean more American casualties. But we cannot fight wars if we are unwilling to assume the risk of American deaths. The men and women who bravely serve this country understand the sacrifices that may be required of them. What is inexcusable is asking Americans to give their lives for nothing. If Iraq continues to spiral downward into civil war and we leave a country that is worse off than when we entered it, we will have dishonored the more than 2,600 Americans who have already shed their blood in battle.
We cannot afford to lose the war in Iraq, and we don't have much time to turn things around. If Baghdad cannot be secured, there is little chance for the rest of Iraq. With an election just around the corner, the president has some tough choices. He can concentrate on winning the battle for Congress, which means more speeches defending his policies and those who supported them. Or he can do what is necessary to win the war, which means sending more troops to Iraq. History will not be kind if he chooses the former.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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