Friday, November 18, 2005

We've all heard the adage that 'those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it'...

Well, the current debate over setting timetables and goals for getting us out of Iraq demonstrates that 'those who learn the wrong thing from history are doomed to keep getting it wrong'...

Many of the critics cite (over and over and over again) our withdrawing from Vietnam, Somalia, Beirut and so on as the single biggest reason we now face threats from Islamic terrorists.

But it wasn't our leaving those countries that was wrong, it was the circumstances under which we left. In all three cases, we left at a time and in a way that could only be described as leaving with the job unfinished.

And the biggest reason for this was that the United States had not clearly stated what its goals were for each conflict. Sure, there were some rather broad statements of purpose, just as there is now with Iraq, but nothing that the public could get their hands around.

In WWII, it was clear: make the Germans surrender and the Japanese suffer for having attacked us at Pearl Harbor. In the Spanish-American war, it was clear: make them pay for blowing up the Maine.

But what was our clearly articulated goal for Vietnam? For being in Beirut? For being in Somalia? For being in Iraq? And, not having set out goals, it was way too easy for the enemy to take credit for having driven us out (which in fact they did).

When we don't let people know what we're trying to do, and in a way that even the dumbest of Democrats can understand, we're ensuring that (1) the American people will not support the conflict, and (2) that whenever we do get around to leaving, the rationale for leaving will sound contrived ("Peace with honor") and it will look like we're leaving with the job undone.

That, my dear readers, is the lesson we should have learned from these previous engagements. It's not the leaving that is bad, it is leaving without having accomplished our clearly communicated goals that makes us look weak.