Analysis and Commentary When and how soon should most if not quite all U.S. troops be withdrawn from Iraq – and what happens after that? Which party will win next year’s presidential election – and will the same party win the House and/or Senate as well? Again, what happens after that? Those are but a few of the major topics in the news in recent weeks, stated in the form of questions that should be but are not always asked. Let there be no mistake about it, though – those questions, each and every one of them, eventually will be answered, one way or another, and many Americans will definitely not like the answers. For at least the next several weeks the war in Iraq probably will continue to be the center of attention not only in the nation’s capital but throughout the country – and elsewhere in the world as well. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and most other Democratic members of Congress – some Republican members as well – want to force a presidential decision on early withdrawal by threatening a cutoff of the appropriations needed to fund the war effort. It seems likely that the legislation proposed by Pelosi and her supporters will pass the House. It may or may not pass the Senate – but if it does, the president would probably veto the bill. That would not end the battle, though; it would merely end the first skirmish in a much longer battle. There are not only several important constitutional issues involved, there are the lives of young Americans also at stake – the men and women now serving their country in Iraq. Which brings up a plethora of other questions that also cannot be definitively answered but nonetheless must be asked: Would a congressionally mandated withdrawal of U.S. troops earlier than now planned really make America safer, or less safe, in the long run – even if it does save the lives of some military personnel in the short run? What would be the impact on U.S. allies around the world? And what would be the short- and long-term effects on the constitutional separation-of-powers principle? Also, what would happen next in Iraq itself? Would the current Iraqi government be able to survive for at least a short time without U.S. support? Would there be another bloodbath or two, one or more civil wars, a country divided into at least three separate spheres of influence, and eventually a return to a harsh one-man dictatorship? All of these questions, and many others that might be asked, pale into insignificance, though, when compared to two additional questions that all members of Congress, and the American people, will be forced to answer in the near future – sooner rather than later, in all likelihood, and no matter what the What would be the impact on U.S. allies around the world? And what would be the short- and long-term effects on the constitutional separation-of-powers principle? consequences. The first question – which should be asked now, and repeatedly, of all candidates, to and through next year’s national elections – is this: Will the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq – at any date certain in the always uncertain future – mean the end of the U.S. and allied “Global War on Terrorism”? Assuming that the war on terrorism would not be over, a reasonably safe assumption – if only because the terrorists might not agree – the second question that must be asked is primarily operational and strategic in its wording, but the answer would have profound economic and political consequences as well: Would a future commander in chief ever again be willing to order U.S. forces into battle overseas against a nation that – no matter what its leaders say publicly – is patently guilty of harboring, sheltering, sustaining, and providing safe refuge to terrorist groups and individual terrorists? President Bush answered the second question when he announced that during the remainder of his time in office there would be no safe harbor, anywhere in the world, for any terrorists who attacked America. It was perhaps the most courageous and most important decision of his presidency. But it also is a decision that is not legally binding on his successors. The American people have not only the right, therefore, but also the moral duty of asking all candidates for national office next year if they would support and follow the same policy. It is recognized that there are no short and easy answers to these and many other questions that might be asked. But a failure to ask those questions would be a dereliction of duty by U.S. voters – and a betrayal by the national media of the responsibilities they have been given along with their unique access to candidates. A failure on the part of candidates to answer the same questions – as fully and as honestly as possible – would demonstrate their unfitness for office. In that context, it is safe to suggest, the substance of the answers given may be less important than the willingness of the individual men and women who would govern America to answer the hard questions that should be asked. They would thus have passed the first and most important test of leadership – a quality always in short supply, but more needed now, perhaps, than ever before in the nation’s history.
James D. Hessman

James D. Hessman is former editor in chief of both the Navy League’s Sea Power Magazine and the League’s annual Almanac of Seapower. Prior to that dual assignment he was senior editor of Armed Forces Journal International.

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