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This Is No ‘Strategic Retreat’ From Iraq

Tonight’s State of the Union address comes at a moment that future historians may well define as a critical decision point in what likely will be the challenge of this generation and generations to come — the war on terror. The president and the Democratic-controlled Congress are embroiled in a crucial foreign policy struggle, the outcome of which may not only determine our strategy in Iraq, but have significant impact on our fight against the forces of radical Islam in the years to come. [IMGCAP(1)]

Because the stakes are so high, Congressional scrutiny of the president’s new “surge” strategy is appropriate. Members of the House and Senate have both the right and the responsibility to ask tough questions about the commander in chief’s decision to send more troops to Iraq, or even to disagree with that decision. Not all Republicans support the idea of sending more troops to Iraq.

But if the Bush strategy deserves examination, then the Democrats’ proposed “solution” for Iraq, which they have termed redeployment, deserves equal scrutiny. Where would they stand and win a decisive battle in the war on terror? Or is their plan to simply beef up homeland security, get more radios for first responders, conduct more port searches and depend on international diplomacy for the nation’s safety?

“Redeploy to where and to what strategic end?” are the questions that ought to be asked of and answered by Democrats who support what is a de facto retreat from Iraq, but their push to bring the troops home, with or without victory, fails to meet the definition of a strategic retreat.

Historically, a strategic retreat or withdrawal has been an accepted, and at times necessary, military option in war when the context of the retreat is one in which a future position will be made more favorable than the existing situation. In other words, to live to fight another day.

In 1812 when the Russian army retreated from Moscow in the face of Napoleon’s advancing troops, it did so to regroup, wait for the harsh winter to take its toll and go back on the offensive in a far stronger position. In May 1940, Dunkirk was a strategic retreat to avoid the sacrifice or capture of more than 300,000 British troops by the Germans in the early days of World War II.

On June 4, 1940, Winston Churchill spoke to the House of Commons just days after the rescue and warned the British people, “We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”

That is a lesson Democrats have failed to take into account. Unlike the Russians or the Brits, the Democrats aren’t thinking about the next offensive. Their redeployment or retreat has no strategic context, no next offensive. Their only concern seems to be getting out of Iraq as soon as possible.

The struggle between the president and the opponents of his Iraq policies isn’t about redeploying to regroup in a stronger position from which to win the next battle. Democrats simply don’t believe that Iraq is or ever was a part of that war — a fundamental difference with the president and his supporters of a forward strategy in Iraq.

They complain that this war now has lasted longer than WWII, which proves they have no real understanding that this war is unlike any other. It didn’t begin on Sept. 11, 2001, but decades ago. This war has evolved into a long continuum that connects the capture of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 in a direct line to the current president of Iran, who rattles his nuclear saber and threatens the stability of the Middle East in the name of Islam.

It connects the Beirut bombing of American Marines by Hezbollah nearly 25 years ago with its leader today, who makes war on Israel as a puppet of Iran and destabilizes Lebanon. The attacks on the U.S.S. Cole, the Khobar Towers and the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa have been as much a part of this war as the occupation of the Sudetenland was a part of WWII.

The president has acknowledged that his surge strategy may or may not produce the results he wants. But withdrawing from Iraq with no serious alternative strategy to defeat the forces of radical Islam, as the Democrats propose, simply is not a realistic option when facing an enemy bent on killing millions of Americans and controlling the Middle East.

While the media has focused on Senate Republicans who do not support the surge, Democrats have their own problems trying to find a unified position beyond the simplistic notion that the departure of Allied forces from Iraq will somehow solve the problem. That approach might be best described as ostrich-like, a head-in-the-sand kind of security strategy as long as the sand isn’t in Iraq or Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Lebanon, Pakistan or Iran — wherever the enemy chooses to fight next.

A few weeks after Churchill cautioned his people not to confuse a strategic evacuation with victory, he told parliament, “… the Battle for France is over. I expect that the Battle for Britain is about to begin.” The Democrats’ call for redeployment seems to be based on the belief that the “Battle for Iraq” is over. Even if they were right, that doesn’t mean the war is over.

Of one thing we can be certain: There will be another battle in the war on terror somewhere. An Iraq unable to maintain its own security has the potential to provide terrorists with significant resources, new bases and a safe haven from which to operate across the region and the world.

A redeployment without a strategy to win is a redeployment to nowhere.

David Winston is president of The Winston Group, a Republican polling firm.