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Reality Check for the Antiwar Crowd

By Pete Hegseth
Monday, June 25, 2007

As an Iraq war veteran who participated in combat operations and political reconciliation efforts, I take issue with some of the arguments repeatedly being made on Capitol Hill. Most recently I was bothered by statements from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who cited three common antiwar arguments in his June 21 op-ed, " Lincoln's Example for Iraq," all of which run counter to realities on the ground in Iraq.

· A deadline for withdrawal is an incentive for Iraqi political compromise. Levin thinks we ought to pressure Iraq's government with a warning tantamount to saying: "You better fix the situation before we leave and your country descends into chaos." He should consider the more likely result: an American exit date crushing any incentive for Iraqi leaders to cooperate and instead prompting rival factions to position themselves to capitalize on the looming power void.

My experience in Iraq bore this out. Only after my unit established a meaningful relationship with the president of the Samarra city council -- built on tangible security improvements and a commitment to cooperation -- did political progress occur. Our relationship fostered unforeseen political opportunities and encouraged leaders, even ones from rival tribes, to side with American and Iraqi forces against local insurgents and foreign fighters.

· We can bring the war to a "responsible end" but still conduct counterterrorism operations. The problem with this argument is what a "responsible end" would mean. What is "responsible" about the large-scale bloodshed that would surely occur if we left the Iraqis behind with insufficient security forces? What is "responsible" about proving al-Qaeda's thesis that America can be defeated anywhere with enough suicide bombings?

The senator also seems to believe that America will have success fighting terrorists in Iraq with a minimal troop presence, despite the fact that 150,000 troops have their hands full right now doing precisely that.

· We are "supporting the troops" by demanding an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Levin says that "our troops should hear an unequivocal message from Congress that we support them." He explains his vote to fund and "support" the troops while simultaneously trying to legislate the war's end. But what kind of "support" and "unequivocal message" do the troops hear from leaders in Congress who call their commanders "incompetent" or declare the war "lost"?

Such statements provide nearly instant enemy propaganda to every mud hut with a satellite dish in Iraq and throughout the Arab world. These messages do not spell support, no matter how you spin them. And they could inspire insurgents, making the situation more dangerous for our soldiers and Marines.

Veterans know firsthand that numerous mistakes have been made in the war. But that does not change the unfortunate reality: Iraq today is the front line of a global jihad being waged against America and its allies. Both Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have said so.

We face an important choice in the coming months: provide Gen. David Petraeus the time and troops he needs to execute his counterinsurgency campaign, or declare defeat and withdraw from Iraq. It seems that Democrats in Congress have already made their decision.

In his op-ed, Sen. Levin invoked the example of Abraham Lincoln, who endured years of challenges before finding the right generals and strategy to win the Civil War. After four years of uncertainty in Iraq, America finally has both the general and the strategy to turn the tide. The question is whether 2007 will unfold like 1865 or 1969.

President Lincoln chose to fight a bloody and unpopular war because he believed the enemy had to be defeated. He was right. And to me, that sounds more than a bit like the situation our country faces today. What path will we choose?

The writer, a first lieutenant in the Army National Guard, is executive director ofVets for Freedom. He served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from September 2005 to July 2006.

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