July 31, 2007 | USA Today

Cut Iraq Some Slack

Granted, Iraq's government has disappointed. Americans liberated Iraqis from Saddam Hussein and gave them the right to vote. What we couldn't give them are the institutions, values and habits required for effective democratic governance. Those they will have to develop over time, if they can.

We are at least partly responsible for the Iraqi government's dysfunction. Watching the debates taking place in Washington — hardly the most inspiring example of democracy in action — Iraqis don't know whether we are going to stay to finish the job or abandon them to al-Qaeda terrorists and Iranian-backed death squads.

And as long as Iraqis think we are heading for the exit, what possible incentive do they have to make painful political compromises?

Even more pertinent: We are not fighting a war in Iraq primarily so Iraqis can have an oil law. Nor are we fighting as a favor to the Iraqi government.

We are, as noted, fighting al-Qaeda as well as Iran's proxies — America's sworn enemies, who have slaughtered Americans in the past and are committed to doing so again, if possible from bases in Iraq.

We should never surrender to such enemies — not if we have a choice. And there is increasing reason to believe that the new U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has a strategy that can avoid America's defeat in what al-Qaeda says is the most important battle in this global conflict.

Penultimate point: While there has been little progress in Iraq's parliament, dramatic achievements are being made at the provincial level. For example, just a few weeks ago, traditional, tribal leaders in Diyala province signed an American-brokered peace agreement. They are now working with each other as well as with U.S. military forces against al-Qaeda, our common enemy.

Final point: If you think the government in Baghdad couldn't be worse, think again. Think about Afghanistan under the Taliban, or about the viciously anti-American governments in Iran and Syria. If we retreat from Iraq, that's the sort of regime we can expect to see in power.

And that would be beyond disappointing.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.




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