BY JOHN HILTON
President Bush has consistently stated his commitment to keeping coalition troops in Iraq for as long as it takes to prepare that country for self-government. The prospect of even one American soldier killed in combat is distressing, and so it is not surprising that the chorus of voices calling for our withdrawal from Iraq has grown over the past several months. But the President is firm in his response to those who would leave our work in Iraq unfinished: there is no going back.
By liberating Iraq from the terrorist regime of Saddam Hussein, America has made a simple promise to the Iraqi people: we will not abandon you.
In the interest of preserving our own credibility we should always endeavor to fulfill our international commitments. But it is simply immoral to abandon a people whose freedom we have promised to defend when it becomes inconvenient for us to keep that promise.
The enemies in Iraq knows that they cannot defeat us on the open battlefield. So they have looked to history, and have found inspiration in several cases of people whose freedom America committed to defend but abandoned when the cost of victory became too dear.
Once upon a time the United States promised to protect the people of three small countries in Southeast Asia from communist tyranny. The people of Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam were grateful for our offer to defend their freedom, and they trusted us not to abandon them. For many years we kept our promise, but slowly our losses grew and our resolve waned. After more than a decade of combat we withdrew from Southeast Asia, and all three countries promptly fell to communism.
As communist troops advanced in the wake of our departure from the region, our ambassador to Cambodia offered asylum to the country’s leaders. Most refused to flee, preferring death at the hands of the communists. One letter declining the ambassador’s offer is especially moving:
I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.
“As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky.
“But mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.”
* * *
Barely six months after liberation from decades of dictatorship, Iraq remains unstable. The civilian government is weak. The borders are open to infiltration by international terrorists. The former dictator himself continues to elude capture, while his agents sabotage basic services like water and electricity. To withdraw now would surely spark anarchy, leaving the Iraqi people at the mercy of the murderers who continue to harass coalition forces.
The enemy in Vietnam correctly predicted that America would rather resign than pay the price of victory in a protracted guerrilla war. The enemy in Iraq is operating from the same assumption, and they must not be allowed to succeed.
Like all people everywhere, the people of Iraq have chosen freedom. And like the unfortunate people of Southeast Asia, we have promised to defend their freedom. To his credit President Bush steadfastly refuses to abandon the Iraqi people in their hour of greatest need. For their sake as much as for our own, there is no going back.
John Hilton is an HLS 2L.