Cut and run? While few are advising that in the wake of Wednesday's horror in Iraq, this we now know doubly well: Hatred for the United States runs deep in some parts of that country, barbarism resides near the surface and the establishment of a relatively stable, reasonably decent democracy will continue to encounter deadly difficulty.
In Fallujah, a mob of 300 men and boys dismembered, burned, tossed, dragged and hanged the bodies of four American civilians after they were ambushed by terrorists. Fallujah, however, is not the entire country. Most of its people are Sunni Muslims who won favors from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, also a Sunni. To them, Americans are worse than foreign conquerors of a vastly different culture — we are saboteurs of their privileges.
The Shiites constitute the largest portion of the Iraqi people, and polls indicate most are glad about the ousting of Saddam. Not all of them are happy with Americans, of course; thousands marched in Baghdad Wednesday because a cleric's newspaper was shut down. And somehow the Shiites and Sunnis will have to get along with each other as Iraqis take over their own government on June 30.
While both the White House and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry were insisting Wednesday that our enemies will not defeat American purposes in Iraq, the American people must be asking themselves more than ever whether the possible benefits of this war are worth the costs. It surely sickened some to find that the mutilated civilians had been engaged in a humanitarian effort: safeguarding the delivery of food. Just hours earlier and close by, a roadside bomb's explosion killed five U.S. soldiers.
The percentage of Americans supporting the war has been declining. It will likely decline more. It does not follow that there will be a prompt withdrawal of American forces, as occurred in Somalia in 1993 after American revulsion at a mob's outrages. Nor should there be.
Despite American divisions on the issue, a compelling case can be made that the United States was rendered far safer from catastrophic terrorism through the war in Iraq. The cost has been great, but the cost of no war could well have been greater. Retreat seems unlikely, for many recognize it could spell a renewal of dangers and a lost chance of developing something beneficially transformative of a frightening part of the world. As much will still be true even if the way ahead is littered with evil.