At the dawn of a new century and on the brink of a new presidency, the United States today needs to reclaim the moral high ground that defined our foreign policy for much of the last century.
We must move beyond the wreckage created by one of the greatest strategic failures in U.S. history: the war in Iraq. Rather than alienating the rest of the world through assertions of infallibility and demands of obedience, as the current administration has done, U.S. foreign policy must be driven by a strategy of reengagement. We must reengage with our history of courage, liberty, and generosity. We must reengage with our tradition of moral leadership on issues ranging from the killings in Darfur to global poverty and climate change. We must reengage with our allies on critical security issues, including terrorism, the Middle East, and nuclear proliferation. With confidence and resolve, we must reengage with those who pose a security threat to us, from Iran to North Korea. And our government must reengage with the American people to restore our nation's reputation as a moral beacon to the world, tapping into our fundamental hope and optimism and calling on our citizens' commitment and courage to make this possible. We must lead the world by demonstrating the power of our ideals, not by stoking fear about those who do not share them.
I might be more inclined to take these arguments seriously had they been made by someone who was not in office when the war in Iraq was launched, or by one who had not voted to authorize the U.S. mission to liberate the Iraqi people from decades of authoritarianism.
It's certain that many mistakes were made in Iraq, but to argue that the war constitutes one our of greatest debacles ignores history and the strategic blunders that have been made in every war in which the U.S. has waged.
Edwards also argues for an immediate drawdown in Iraq, which is problematic, because the administration has rightly adjusted course and American forces have achieved great success in defeating the insurgency and establishing security in many regions of the country. Here's Edwards call to cut and run amid some of our greatest victories since March 2003:
We should begin our reengagement with the world by bringing an end to the Iraq war. Iraq's problems are deep and dangerous, but they cannot be solved by the U.S. military. For over a year, I have argued for an immediate withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 U.S. combat troops from Iraq, followed by an orderly and complete withdrawal of all combat troops. Once we are out of Iraq, the United States must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide, a regional spillover of the civil war, or the establishment of an al Qaeda safe haven. We will most likely need to retain quick-reaction forces in Kuwait and a significant naval presence in the Persian Gulf. We will also need some security capabilities in Baghdad, inside the Green Zone, to protect the U.S. embassy and U.S. personnel. Finally, we will need a diplomatic offensive to engage the rest of the world -- including Middle Eastern nations and our allies in Europe -- in working to secure Iraq's future. All of these measures will finally allow us to close this terrible chapter and move on to the broader challenges of the new century.
Edwards in fact sounds reasonable in his proposals. Yet, he provides no discussion of the strategic stakes his policy would entail. Unlike the recent essays in this series by Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani, Edwards refuses to acknowledge that the United States is not the source of the world's terror. Despite his obligatory reference to September 11, 2001, Edwards offers no compelling case that he clearly understands the true dangers facing the world today in Islamist fundamentalism.
Read the whole thing. It is true that the U.S. must begin a process of restoring our historic reputation as the force for global goodness. Doing so, however, requires a recognition of the rightness of our cause today. It requires clearly identifying the essential nature of our adversary. And it requires us to make no apologies for taking on agressively the nihilist forces bent on our utter destruction. This John Edwards has not done.
See also my previous posts in the series: