Fear of Looking Weak

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 1, 2008; 11:51 AM

How would it look to the world if we left Iraq now?

President Bush and Vice President Cheney both expressed concern yesterday that it would make the United States look weak.

Here's Cheney talking to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce: "To abandon our cause in Iraq -- especially now that we've seized the initiative -- would dissipate much of the effort that's gone into fighting the war on terror. Those who have stood with America in this war, and counted on our friendship, would be newly vulnerable to an emboldened enemy. And we, the people of the United States, would bear the consequences as well because a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would validate al Qaeda's belief that we lack the stomach for the fight, that we lack the patience to complete a mission even when it's clearly in our national security interest."

Here's Bush, speaking to a conservative group in Las Vegas: "Success in Iraq will send an interesting message to its neighbor, Iran. Failure in Iraq would cause people to doubt the sincerity of the United States when it comes to keeping commitments. Failure in Iraq would embolden the extremists. Failure in Iraq would say to thugs and killers, the United States is a paper tiger. Failure in Iraq would embolden other extremists in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq would embolden Iran. It's in our strategic interests that we succeed. And we will succeed. We have done this kind of work together."

It's a central tenet of neoconservative theory that weakness invites attack. But fear of looking weak alone is not a good basis for decision-making -- especially when your misbegotten attempts to show strength actually make you look weaker than you would have otherwise.

Indeed, it's hard to imagine anything that could have damaged America's international reputation more than the invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, combined with a bungled, divisive and horribly violent occupation with no end in sight.

As the administration's own national intelligence estimate last year made clear, the war in Iraq has actually strengthened our real enemies -- while stretching our armed forces to the limit.

In fact, there is a compelling argument to be made that leaving Iraq would restore our image and achieve more of our national security interests than staying.

Finally, America -- the world's sole hyperpower -- is hardly in danger of being perceived as a paper tiger. It's an astonishing suggestion to be bandied about by the president of the United States.

And yet only one reporter in the press corps took note Bush's use of the inflammatory term: Olivier Knox of Agence France Presse.

Speaking of Fear of Looking Weak

Scott MacKay writes in the Providence Journal: "Former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee's new political memoir is remarkable for its candor, its delicious window into life in America's most exclusive club, and its condemnation of President Bush and the combination of right-wing Republicans and Democratic enablers who plunged the nation into an ill-fated war without end in Iraq. . . .

"The book excoriates Mr. Bush and his GOP allies who repeatedly fanned such wedge issues as changing the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, abortion and flag-burning. But he saves some of his harshest words for Democrats who paved the way for Mr. Bush to use the U.S. military to invade Iraq. . . .


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