Responding to the call of Pope Urban II at
Claremont in 1095, the Christian knights of the First Crusade set out for the
Holy Land. In 1099, Jerusalem was captured. As their port in Palestine, the
Crusaders settled on Acre on the Mediterranean.
There they built the great castle that was overrun by Saladin in 1187,
but retaken by Richard the Lion-Hearted in 1191. Acre became the capital of
the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the stronghold of the Crusader state, which fell
to the Mameluks in a bloody siege in 1291. The Christians left behind were massacred.
The ruins of Acre are now a tourist attraction.
Any who have visited this last outpost of Christendom in the Holy Land
before Gen. Allenby marched into Jerusalem in 1917 cannot – on reading of the
massive U.S. embassy rising in Baghdad – but think of Acre.
At a cost of $600 million, with walls able to withstand mortar and rocket
fire, and space to accommodate 1,000 Americans, this mammoth embassy, largest
on earth, will squat on the banks of the Tigris inside the Green Zone.
But, a decade hence, will the U.S. ambassador be occupying this imperial
compound? Or will it be like the ruins of Acre?
What raises the question is a sense the United States, this time, is truly
about to write off Iraq as a lost cause.
The Republican lines on Capitol Hill are crumbling. Starting with Richard
Lugar, one GOP senator after another has risen to urge a drawdown of U.S. forces
and a diplomatic solution to the war.
But this is non-credible. How can U.S. diplomats win at a conference table
what 150,000 U.S. troops cannot secure on a battlefield?
Though Henry Kissinger was an advocate of this unnecessary war, he is not
necessarily wrong when he warns of "geopolitical calamity." Nor is Ryan Crocker,
U.S. envoy in Iraq, necessarily wrong when he says a U.S. withdrawal may be
the end of the American war, but it will be the start of bloodier wars in Iraq
and across the region.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari also warns of the perils of a rapid
withdrawal: "The dangers vary from civil war to dividing the country to regional
wars ... the danger is huge. Until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete
their readiness, there is a responsibility on the U.S. and other countries to
stand by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to help build up their capabilities."
In urging a redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq, and a new focus on
diplomacy, Lugar listed four strategic goals. Prevent creation of a safe haven
for terrorists. Prevent sectarian war from spilling out into the broader Middle
East. Prevent Iran's domination of the region. Limit the loss of U.S. credibility
through the region and world as a result of a failed mission in Iraq.
But how does shrinking the U.S. military power and presence in Iraq advance
any of these goals?
Longtime critics of the war like Gen. William Odom say it is already lost,
and fighting on will only further bleed the country and make the ultimate price
even higher. The general may be right in saying it is time to cut our losses.
But we should take a hard look at what those losses may be.
It is a near certainty the U.S.-backed government will fall and those we
leave behind will suffer the fate of our Vietnamese and Cambodian friends in
1975. As U.S. combat brigades move out, contractors, aid workers and diplomats
left behind will be more vulnerable to assassination and kidnapping. There could
be a stampede for the exit and a Saigon ending in the Green Zone.
The civil and sectarian war will surely escalate when we go, with Iran
aiding its Shi'ite allies and Sunni nations aiding the Sunnis. A breakup of
the country seems certain. Al-Qaeda will claim it has run the U.S. superpower
out of Iraq and take the lessons it has learned to Jordan, Saudi Arabia and
the Gulf states. The Turks, with an army already on the border, will go in to
secure their interests in not having the Kurdish PKK operating from Iraq and
in guaranteeing there is no independent Kurdistan. What will America do then?
As for this country, the argument over who is responsible for the worst
strategic debacle in American history will be poisonous.
With a U.S. defeat in Iraq, U.S. prestige would plummet across the region.
Who will rely on a U.S. commitment for its security? Like the British and French
before us, we will be heading home from the Middle East.
What we are about to witness is how empires end.
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