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An Argument for Staying the Course in Iraq


In the next couple of days we'll be hearing a variety of opinions on the way the US should proceed in Iraq. We hear today from commentator Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel. He argues that the United States needs to continue its strong presence in Iraq.


The conventional wisdom in the developing world is that when the going gets tough, the Americans get out. We know Saddam Hussein believes that because he's said it. We have every reason to believe that the bin Ladens and Abu Musab al-Zarqawis of the world believe it also. Like most of what passes for conventional wisdom in the world, this belief is not based on sound empirical evidence. Quite the opposite is true.

America has fought four major wars that have lasted longer than three years in its history. To date, we are three wins and one loss. Only in Vietnam did we quit. That may be the exception that proves the rule. Americans supported our efforts in Vietnam for five years without flinching from the casualties. It was only after the Tet offensive in 1968, when the government could provide no clear blueprint for victory, that public determination faltered.

Americans are a pragmatic people. We want to be assured that the outcome will be worth the cost and that the mission is one that can be accomplished. Bin Laden and his ilk point to Lebanon and Somalia as further evidence of American weakness. I call it pragmatism. Presidents Reagan and Clinton respectively took a cold, hard look at both of those situations and decided that the American vital interests were not at stake. In both cases, they decided to cut our losses. Having been involved in both conflicts, I think their decisions were wise.

Iraq is different. Iraq is a region that is vital not just to American interests but to those of the economic and political stability of the global family. Saddam Hussein was a bad man, but that was not his most dangerous quality. We've managed to live with bad men, such as Stalin, Mao and Castro. Hussein's greatest sin was that he was an adventurous fool with poor judgment. If he had not provoked us to war in 2003, he would have ultimately provoked an even greater debacle in the future. A final confrontation was not a matter of if; it was a matter of when.

From a personal perspective, I advocated trying other options to deal with Saddam before an overt invasion. However, once we crossed the proverbial Rubicon in March of 2003, I felt that it was my duty to do the best I could to support bringing the enterprise to a successful conclusion. I still feel that way. Since 2003, every male member of my family of military age has been to the Iraqi theater or is scheduled to go. If asked, I'd personally go back in any capacity where I could be of use.

We've made a lot of mistakes in Iraq, but we have now adapted a classically successful counterinsurgency strategy. Foreigners can't win guerrilla wars. Only local forces can do so. We have thrown in our lot with those Iraqis who support democracy. To leave them high and dry now would be the ultimate dishonor. I'm committed, and I can only hope that the rest of the country is as well.

NORRIS: Commentator Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps colonel. He's traveled to Iraq as a special adviser to the deputy secretary of Defense.

Tomorrow, an essay from Senator John Kerry, who lays out his exit strategy for getting out of Iraq. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gary Anderson
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