Michael  Franc

Liberals who favor withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq believe the situation there is relatively straightforward: We are enmeshed in a civil war, a deeply-rooted sectarian conflict the outcome of which matters little to the U.S. Disengaging is the only way we can engage the real enemy -- al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations bent on our destruction -- in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“The civil war we have on our hands in Iraq,” Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) opined in a recent op-ed, “is not our fight and it is not the fight Congress authorized. Iraq is at war with itself and American troops are caught in the middle.” To rising House Democratic leader Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), Congress faces a stark, either-or proposition: “There are those who want to police a civil war between Sunnis and Shia, and those of us who believe in fighting the war on terror. That is the choice.”

Liberals, moreover, see the present conflict as more of the same sectarian strife that has plagued the region for millennia. “The sectarian violence has only been going on for 1,327 years, ever since the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D.,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) observed. “The situation in Iraq,” Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) agreed, “is a civil war compounded by civil wars that have been going on ever since Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, Isaac, Ishmael, Esau, Mohammed and his son-in-law …”

Conservatives, by contrast, see an entirely different, and more nuanced, challenge. They see many shades of gray -- centuries-old regional hatreds, yes, but hatreds complicated by foreign jihadists trained and underwritten by al Qaeda and Iran. According to Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, spokesman for the Multinational Force in Iraq, foreign fighters now account for at least 80% of Iraq’s suicide bombings. John Burns, The New York Times’ correspondent in Baghdad, explains how the nature of the Iraqi war has evolved: “The generals here who a year ago were saying quite bluntly that the biggest security threat were the [Iraqi] Shiite death squads … are saying now … that the principal threat is al Qaeda. … The principal target of the surge are those al Qaeda-linked groups.”

Michael Franc

A long-time veteran of Washington policymaking, Mike Franc oversees Heritage's outreach to members of the U.S. House and Senate and their staffs.

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