Thursday, November 17, 2005


That's the exact title of this article in the New York Post today written by John McCain...if you don't have a subscription here you go:

IRAQ is today in the throes of another critical moment in its post-Saddam history. There is both great hope and great difficulty, with a new constitution and an ongoing insurgency, with parliamentary elections in a month and violence plaguing many areas.

At home, the American people wish to see us succeed in helping bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people, but express increased uncertainty among the way forward. Now is the last time we should send a message that withdrawing troops is more important than achieving success.

Unfortunately, the Senate considered two amendments this week — one of which was approved with 79 votes — that did just that. In the version that passed, 2006 is designated as "a period of significant transition to full sovereignty . . . thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq."

These words are likely to be examined closely in Iraq, by both friends and enemies. They suggest that the Senate has its priorities upside down, and I voted to reject them. Anyone reading the amendment gets the sense that the Senate's foremost objective is the draw-down of American troops. What it should have said is that America's first goal in Iraq is not to withdraw troops, but to win the war. All other policy decisions we make should support, and be subordinate to, the successful completion of our mission.

If that means we can draw down our troop levels and win in Iraq in 2006, that would be a wonderful outcome. But if success requires an increase in American troop levels in 2006, then we must increase our numbers there.

Morality, national security and the honor our fallen deserve all compel us to see our mission in Iraq through to victory.

But the amendment suggests a different priority. It signals that withdrawal, not victory, is foremost in Congress' mind, and suggests that we are more interested in exit than victory. A date is not an exit strategy. To suggest that it is only encourages our enemies, by indicating that the end to American intervention is near. It alienates our friends, who fear an insurgent victory, and tempts undecideds to join the anti-government ranks.

And it suggests to the American people that, no matter what, 2006 is the date for withdrawal. As much as I hope 2006 is the landmark year that the amendment's supporters envision, should it not be so, messages like these will have unrealistically raised expectations once again. That can only cost domestic support for America's role in this conflict, a war we must win.

The sponsors may disagree with my interpretation of their words, saying that 2006 is merely a target, that their legislation is not binding and that it included caveats. But look at the initial response to the Senate's words: a front page Washington Post story titled "Senate Presses for Concrete Steps Toward Drawdown of Troops in Iraq."

Think about this for a moment. Imagine Iraqis, working for the new government, considering whether to join the police force, or debating whether or not to take up arms. What will they think when they read that the Senate is pressing for steps toward draw-down?

Are they more or less likely to side with a government whose No. 1 partner hints at leaving? The Senate has responded to the millions who braved bombs and threats to vote, who put their faith and trust in America and their government, by suggesting that our No. 1 priority is to bring our people home.

We have told insurgents that their violence does grind us down, that their horrific acts might be successful. But these are precisely the wrong messages. Our exit strategy in Iraq is not the withdrawal of our troops, it is victory.

Americans may not have been of one mind when it came to the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But, though some disagreed, I believe that nearly all now wish us to prevail. Because the stakes there are so high — higher even than those in Vietnam — our friends and our enemies need to hear one message: America is committed to success, and we will win this war.

Sen. McCain (R, Az.) is one of only 19 U.S. senators — including just 13 Republicans — to have voted against a Senate resolution Tuesday pushing for an eventual draw-down of U.S. troops from Iraq.

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