Editorial: America can't afford to back away from commitment to Iraq

April 08, 2004

Sen. Edward Kennedy may consider Iraq to be "George Bush's Vietnam" but a more accurate - if far less partisan - assessment may be that the current situation in Iraq is America's new Mogadishu.

At least that's the opinion of Mark Bowden, the writer who's research on the events of Oct. 4, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, resulted in the book, "Black Hawk Down."

Writing in Monday's Wall Street Journal, Bowden compares the Mogadishu tragedy, in which the bodies of American soldiers were dragged through the streets of that city, to the atrocities committed last week in Fallujah, Iraq, against four American security men.

In Somalia, Bowden writes, Americans were targeting warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid when the bodies of Americans were dragged from a helicopter by a mob that flaunted the basic respect that all religions hold toward the dead. Following the atrocities, Bowden writes, many of Aidid's supporters were both appalled, and terrified that such actions would draw a violent response from the United States. Many of them fled or contacted U.N. authorities in hopes of negotiating.


They needn't have. No such violent response ever occurred, and the thugs and warlords and terrorists of the world later celebrated the "victory" in Mogadishu, and, Bowden writes, "learned what they thought was an essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden."

Bowden sees Fallujah as another Mogadishu and argues that for the good of Iraq - as well as America - U.S. forces cannot just walk away. He says the stakes are greater than just who wins the next election.

"...However that election turns out, and however imperfectly we have arrived at this point, the facts on the ground in Iraq remain," Bowden writes. "Saddam is gone and Iraq, thanks to U.S. intervention, is struggling toward a new kind of future. Its successful transformation into a peaceful, democratic state is in everyone's interest except Saddam's extended family and the Islamo-fascists. It's time for opponents of the war to get real. ... The response should not be to back away from the task, but to redouble our efforts."

Bush critics like Kennedy have been emboldened by the recent setbacks in Iraq. All is fair in love, war and politics, so Kennedy has every right to criticize Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq and the war on terror, even in the most scurrilous, outrageous way.

But even if Kennedy's buddy Sen. John Kerry knocks Bush out of the White House in November, the problems of terrorism, Islamo-fascism and nuclear proliferation will remain. President Bush has taken an activist approach to these problems, and as with most people who actually try to do something about a problem, he has made mistakes. But at least he has not passed the buck to somebody else. He has not chosen "to back away from the task."

What Kerry and Kennedy would do remains to be seen, but we do not find Kennedy's talk of "George Bush's Vietnam" to be very reassuring. It might be difficult for a Kerry, for whom Kennedy is a sort of alter ego, to distance himself from such strong statements if he were elected.

Kerry and Kennedy are playing a dangerous game with America's security. We remain convinced that their criticism of Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq gives encouragement to our enemies, who are hoping against hope that they only have to hold out until November.

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