Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Price of Dissent

Yes, yes, opponents of the war in Iraq have every right to dissent. Thomas Jefferson didn't say dissent is the highest form of patriotism, but the Left hardly needs a dead white male to sanctify freedom of speech, I should think.

Yet as the saying goes, freedom isn't free. And neither is dissent. We and the Iraqis are paying the price for the uncertainty of American staying power that our dissenters portrays to others. Amir Taheri writes:

Had there been no uncertainty in Iraq, there would have been none in America either, and vice versa. It is urgent to end at least one of the two.

Clearly, the easier uncertainty to end is that concerning U.S. policies. With the elections over, Democrats should see Iraq for what it is: a success that is challenged by powerful enemies, and inadequately supported by friends and allies who doubt America's commitment. The first step needed is to dispel those doubts.

For Democrats, Iraq was a stick with which to beat Bush and regain control of the Congress. But working to make Iraq a failure would harm the strategic interests of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

Iraq's Shias, Kurds, and Sunnis are all uncertain of our willingness to stay until a democratic Iraq can stand on its feet. So they hedge their bets to cope just in case we leave too early, meaning our progress is slower than it could be. Arab countries are uncertain that they need to even establish formal ties with an Iraq that might fail without American support lasting long enough to make a difference, slowing progress further. And slow progress in Iraq taxes American patience. Talk about a cycle of violence!

My hope is that the higher price isn't so great that we fail to win in Iraq. I still think we can and will win, but dissent has clearly increased the cost of victory.

I'm not arguing that we should have banned dissent in order to fight more effectively. This would also stifle criticisms of failures, and correcting errors is necessary to win. Freedom of speech may certainly be bent but should not be broken in wartime.

But I do hope that most dissenters--who simply criticize what they know nothing about without offering alternatives--don't confuse their dissent with constructive criticism. Bitching isn't strategery. The American people certainly know that the opposition has no actual plan despite more than three years of criticizing the conduct of the war.

Nobody should fool themselves into thinking that the exercise of their right to dissent over the war has no cost. We see the price every day on our television stations that broadcast from Baghdad.