William F. Buckley

You are a Republican legislator, retiring after this, your fifth term. Last night, into midnight hours, you composed a questionnaire for yourself. You vowed to submit to it before your committee speech. You'd flower up the language a bit -- but not the thought. You wake up this morning and turn to last night's self-quiz.

(1) Is it a strain to send more troops to Iraq?

No. A country of 300 million has resources insignificantly depleted by the proposed increase in troops.

Yes, there would be sacrifices. Mr. Chairman, I am not going to spend 10 seconds describing the anguish of the families of soldiers wounded or killed, which does not diminish that anguish. We are talking in clinical language. Hospitals don't pause to bemoan the deaths that occur on their premises. The United States has been at war in Iraq for nearly four years. No sacrifice of a corporate character has been asked of the American people. Taxes haven't been raised, gasoline hasn't been rationed, passports haven't been recalled.

Life in free countries produces victims in every field. In the past four years, 3,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq. In the same period, about 170,000 Americans have died in car accidents, and about 1.6 million have died from tobacco-related illnesses.

(2) Is our Iraqi enterprise worth a corporate commitment by the United States?

That is the taxing question. If success in Iraq would bring an end to the movement of which Iraq is now the apex, the answer would clearly be yes. Has the president persuasively argued that it would do so? No. He has said that "failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States." He hasn't said why. Great countries do lose great engagements. We did in Vietnam and Korea, the Soviets did in Afghanistan.

Would the United States be less threatening to its armed enemies if we pulled out of Iraq? That depends on a single element: Iran. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria are all, in this epoch in history, living direful lives. But only Iran has or is developing the dispositive weapon.

(3) How does the Iraq question bear on the Iran question?

If Iran did not exist, Iraq could proceed with its sectarian strife with consequences only for Iraqis. But Iran is critical in several ways. Iran is training, inflaming, transporting and supplying all Muslims within reach to join in the fighting. We have moved to toughen sanctions against Iran, but they have not proved sufficient to effect a regime change.

(4) Then doesn't it follow that the U.S. role in Iraq is indeed critical?

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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