Iraqis aren't stupid -- and they're watching us

Last month, Vets for Freedom visited the Twin Cities to talk about their experience in Iraq — and got rewarded by being booted from a local high school. Michael Honeycutt and I, along with hundreds of people from our community, attended their evening appearance at Fort Snelling Officers Club that same day to hear heroes like David Bellavia and Pete Hegseth explain what’s happening in Iraq and the importance of completing the mission successfully. Michael — better known to Ed Morrissey Show chatizens as Sgt_H — served sixteen months in Iraq and understands the need well. He writes in today’s Star Tribune that Iraqis understand it, too, and wonder whether we’ll betray them like we did in 1991:

I was on the ground in Iraq for 16 months, and in that time I talked to hundreds of Iraqis. Some didn’t like us; some wanted us to leave, but most did not. What they wanted was for America to live up to its word. They wanted us to rid the country of terrorists and militias so that they could live in peace.

They were willing to help us, but they are not a stupid people. They know that if they commit to the American side and the Americans abandon them as we did in 1991, it means death for them and their families. They know this, and it is real. It is not an abstract idea for them.

Most Iraqis don’t support Al-Qaida and the militias, but when our commitment to stay in Iraq and finish the job is in doubt — as it was when Sen. Harry Reid went on TV and said, “this war is lost” — Iraqis are going to hedge their bets. They may not support the militias, but when they are betting their lives, most of them are not going to commit to America unless they are assured that America is committed to them.

That’s why Vets For Freedom supports any politician who supports the mission in Iraq. We — all Americans, not just Republicans, not just President Bush — owe it to the Iraqi people to see this through.

As Michael reminds us, we can argue over 2002-3 all we want, but it doesn’t have anything to do with 2008. We are in Iraq, and al-Qaeda is arrayed against our troops. In fact, this is the best possible situation if we want to fight terrorists — to have them on a battlefield in straight-up fights against our military. It’s exactly what terrorists don’t want. If they wanted to fight our military, they wouldn’t use bomb commuter trains and fly civilian airplanes into their targets.

We have plenty of politicians who still don’t understand the strategic advantage this gives us. Instead of forcing them to defend ground and fight against the best military machine in history, these politicians want the military to retreat and allow them safe haven in Iraq. The best commitment they’re willing to offer is that if they get too comfortable in their new digs, we’ll stage another invasion of Iraq — without considering the costs involved, both logistically and in human lives, and that it depends on finding another country willing to host us after twice leaving the Iraqis twisting in the wind.

It also presupposes that we’ll get welcomed back for a third round of destruction by the people we would have abandoned twice. If we betray them a second time, don’t expect a third welcome. They already mistrust our honor after the 1991 bug-out that left them in the hands of Saddam Hussein. And it won’t just be the Iraqis who watch whether we keep our word; the Afghanis, the Saudis, the Jordanians all will take note of another retreat — and they will make their deals with radical Islamist terrorists accordingly.

We need to acknowledge the reality of today, not argue over the circumstances of 2002. We have the terrorists on the run and the Iraqi people on the verge of a historic transformation into a functioning, moderate Arab democracy. Now is not the time to show the world that America runs from its allies and its enemies.

Update: Let’s hear from David Bellavia one more time: