April 26, 2007

Breaking faith with the troops

This article appeared on MSNBC.com

On April 25, the House passed a bill that calls for American forces to begin withdrawing from Iraq by October 1, 2007, with a non-binding goal of all combat troops out by April 1, 2008. This vote is reminiscent of the earlier non-binding resolution condemning the ongoing troop surge – basically a free vote for both sides of the aisle. Since the President has already vowed to veto a bill with a withdrawal timeline, there are no consequences either way. This does not even serve as putting representatives on record; it’s merely a show for their constituents.

Are our elected representatives acting in the best interests of the country with what amounts to nothing more than political theater? There are American forces involved in ongoing combat operations as our “leaders” put on this show – the troops deserve better than this from Washington.

As I have said previously, al-Qaeda in Iraq and the other insurgents know that their war will not and cannot be won on the battlefields of Iraq – it can only be won in the halls of Congress. They know full well that public opinion in the United States is divided and there is declining support for the war. The election results in November told them that. Read any of the analyses in the Arabic language media – American public opinion is turning against the war and a victory for the insurgents is at hand. In their view, passage of this bill in the House just validates that assessment.

There is no question that this kabuki dance in the House is disappointing to the troops who are worried not only about having adequate resources to do their jobs, but to do them safely. The notion that passing a bill that is doomed to failure is somehow supporting the troops is ludicrous, and the troops know it.

The better question is, “How does this affect the insurgents?”

The insurgents understand us better than we understand them. They view the establishment of a withdrawal timetable as the path to victory. If they know when the United States will do as Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee suggests, simply declare victory and go home (“We need to claim victory for our soldiers…."), it reinforces their will to simply outlast the Americans. It says to them, “Keep up the attacks and the Americans will call it quits and leave.” In fact, they will likely make the attacks even more gruesome and spectacular – it will hasten the collapse of any remaining public support for the war. Of course, when the Senate majority leader declares that the war is lost, it only strengthens the insurgents’ resolve.

The war in Vietnam was not lost on the battlefield – we won all the engagements. It was lost on the home front. The public broke faith with its soldiers and treated them shabbily – I can attest to that personally. For all of its talk of “supporting the troops,” it now appears that this Congress is well on its way to doing the same to its soldiers.