Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2005 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5766

Paul Greenberg

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The wrong message to send | On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate was presented with an opportunity to give the enemy in Iraq just what it would love to have: a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces there.

That way, Saddam's holdouts and their terrorist allies could know just when to launch their big offensive against Iraq's new government without fear that it would be crushed by American forces.

We live in times when it is necessary to point out the folly of such a move. If you're in any doubt about that, think of the repercussions if the U.S. Senate had adopted such an amendment to a defense bill when Allied fortunes were at a low ebb in the Second World War, say in 1942, the year of one defeat after another.

Suppose the senators had solemnly assured the Axis that our goal was to be out of the war by Dec. 31, 1943. Or whenever our casualties exceeded a certain number. Imagine the incentive such a resolution, or rather sign of irresolution, would have given the enemy to hold out until then. Just as this demand for a timetable to govern our withdrawal from the field would have been welcomed by our foes in Iraq. The message would have been clear: America's will is weakening.

None of this seemed to bother the 40 senators who backed this amendment offered by Michigan's Carl Levin. Let it be noted gratefully that not every Democrat in the Senate joined him. Five members of the loyal opposition voted against his bright idea: Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. They did their party proud.

To quote Sen. Pryor, drawing up such a timetable would amount to "telegraphing our intentions to the bad guys." Only one Republican, Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, thought it would be a dandy idea to let Zarqawi (AMPERSAND) Bloody Company know just when this country planned to throw in the towel.

Actually, the president and commander-in-chief has already announced when American troops will leave Iraq: when victory is achieved. Sounds like a good timetable to me. Because any other will invite defeat.

To quote George W. Bush address on Veterans Day: "I have said, as Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down." The president and commander-in-chief added that our troops "deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them. Our troops deserve to know that this support will remain firm when the going gets tough. And our troops deserve to know that whatever our differences in Washington, our will is strong, our nation is united, and we will settle for nothing less than victory."

This country and its allies are engaged in what will surely be a long struggle against a fanatical ideology that, like fascism and Communism before it, is only encouraged by any sign of weakness on the part of the free.

And in war, as an American general named MacArthur once said, there is no substitute for victory. Not retreat, not wild charges, not yielding to the temptation to exploit a war's terrible cost for political gain, and certainly not the adoption of any timetable short of victory.

A word for John McCain, senator from Arizona, leader in war and peace, and, oh, yes, a war hero. Of course Sen. McCain would not vote for Carl Levin's proposal to give the enemy in Iraq our plans for an "exit strategy," the current euphemism of choice for bugging out. The senator knows very well the effect such an announcement would have, and it wouldn't be a good one.

Even proposing such a timetable is less than useful. (Suppose we were told that the new Iraqi government had just agreed to continue fighting the war, but only by a vote of 58 to 40.)

Also on the floor was a watered-down Republican alternative to Sen. Levin's proposal. It said something about having the administration make quarterly reports to Congress on the conduct of the war. Like a corporation filing an earnings report? It was such a meaningless proposition that of course it was adopted — 79 to 19. (You know that any amendment platitudinous enough to be adopted 79 to 19 isn't going to inconvenience anybody.)

And yet Sen. McCain also voted against this bit of mush. He refused to make even an empty gesture that might encourage the enemy to believe that America's will was weakening.

As this long war grows longer, surely many another, equally mischievous proposal will be introduced. This is just the start of what could become the kind of congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War that so bedeviled Abraham Lincoln during another war as Members of Congress second-guessed Union strategy in every major battle from Bull Run to Petersburg.

That single congressional committee must have been worth a whole division to the Confederacy. Naturally the committee was most active when Northern dissatisfaction with the war was greatest.

No doubt many a mistake has been made in this war, too — the memoirs and critiques begin to pile up — but this administration's greatest lapse may be its neglect of the home front, as if it thought the support of public opinion could be taken for granted. But of late the president and vice president have begun to swing back at their critics. They need to keep it up. The most important front in any war is the home front. Lose the battle at home, and the war itself will be lost.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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