Sounding retreat

Posted: Aug 29, 2006 12:00 AM
Sounding retreat

Urban legend has it that populations of wild rodents known as lemmings periodically commit mass suicide by throwing themselves off cliffs. In fact, these critters do no such thing. It remains to be seen, however, whether American voters will this Fall do the functional equivalent of the lemming leap: Electing politicians who seductively promise retreat from a strategy of forward defense, thus imperiling large numbers of our countrymen abroad and possibly at home.

No longer are such politicians found only on the far left of the Democratic Party. To be sure, and its champions in Congress are still among the most vociferous in demanding precipitous withdrawal from Iraq. Now, however, Hillary Clinton – an erstwhile supporter of the liberation of the Iraqi people – has found it necessary to realign with her defeatist base. She evidently hopes to do so without explicitly recanting her vote for the war by helping Ned Lamont defeat Joe Lieberman, a fellow Democrat who remains unrepentant about seeking Saddam Hussein’s overthrow.

So strong is the siren’s call of defeatism at the moment that even some Republicans are succumbing to it. For example, Rep. Chris Shays has just returned from the most recent of many visits to Iraq and joined those declaring that a timetable for beginning to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq must be set, without regard for the conditions on the ground or the consequences of our doing so.

The defeatists typically offer two rationalizations for this course of action. The first contends that we need to retreat so as to compel the Iraqis to make the “tough decisions” about their own future that our presence and support allows them to postpone.

Unfortunately, the decisions that will almost certainly flow from the perception – let alone the reality – that America is once again abandoning the Iraqi people will translate into the rise of another repressive authoritarian regime there, this time probably one closely aligned with Iran. Such an outcome would not be good for freedom-loving people in Iraq and elsewhere, including here.

The defeatists’ second rationale is even more disingenuous. They complain bitterly that we do not have enough troops in Iraq to win. Yet, with few exceptions, they are unwilling either to increase the deployment there or otherwise to build up our military to contend with current and future needs.

This line fails to acknowledge that war is a come-as-you-are affair. The United States faced the dangerous post-9/11 world with the armed forces and defense industrial base it had left following the 1990s, when many of today’s defeatists cashed in yesterday’s so-called “peace dividend.” It takes a relatively short time to dismantle large parts of our military’s power-projection capabilities and infrastructure, and decades to reconstitute them.

Dangerous, short-sighted and historically ignorant are all apt descriptions of a policy that fails to invest in the U.S. military in peacetime. But failing to invest sufficiently in our defense capabilities in time of war is reckless in the extreme. At some point, such behavior breeds not just defeatism. It assures defeat.

Today, the U.S. Army’s soaring personnel costs leave it with insufficient resources both to support our combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to maintain the readiness of units not presently in the fight. Even worse are shortfalls in the procurement of equipment needed to conduct tomorrow’s, possibly quite different wars.

The Navy’s shipbuilding program is on a trajectory that is wholly inadequate to assure freedom of the seas, on which not only our security but our economic well-being critically depends. The same is true of the modernization program for the Coast Guard, an institution whose duties vastly exceed its capabilities. If anything, this mismatch will become more grievous with the proliferation of seaborne threats to this country.

The Marine Corps is facing its own serious resource, investment and manpower challenges. One symptom of its condition was last week’s announcement that the service must recall some long-serving members of its Individual Ready Reserve to active duty.

The Air Force has just seen its contractors begin shutting down the Free World’s only production line for highly capable, heavy-lift transport aircraft, the C-17. This plane is an indispensable part of America’s ability to project power. The planned inventory is insufficient to assure that we will be able to do so where and when we will need to in the future.

American voters are badly served by leaders who suggest that national security can be achieved on the cheap, especially in time of war. The reality is that abandoning Iraq will not save either lives or dollars in the long-run. Such a course will intensify the danger posed to our country and way of life from Islamofascists, their sponsors and friends.

The public must be told the truth. This war is not just about Iraq and will not be over if we retreat from the conflict there. It will likely get worse before it gets better. It will require greater sacrifice – indeed, a national mobilization – if we are to prevail. Those who suggest that the alternative is less painful and costly are at best disingenuous.

In fact, history tells us that confronting foes like ours later, rather than now, under circumstances of their choosing rather than ours, will entail a far higher price in lives and national treasure. Informed voters, given the choice, will reject the lemming-leap of defeatism and its inevitable high toll.