In our opinion: U.S. can't afford to lose all it gained in Iraq, Afghanistan

Published: Thursday, Jan. 9 2014 9:59 a.m. MST

Gunmen gather in a street as they chant slogans against Iraq's Shiite-led government and demanding that the Iraqi army not try to enter the city in Fallujah, 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. The fall of Fallujah and Ramadi represent a massive failure for the Obama administration and could portend further troubles ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even in the United States.

STR, Associated Press

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In 2004, Fallujah and Ramadi, two cities in Iraq’s Anbar province, became the scene of some of the most remarkable heroics in the efforts by U.S. forces to secure peace in that country. American soldiers forged alliances with important Sunni tribal chiefs who helped secure victory through intense urban fighting that turned the tide in the war.

And now both cities have fallen back into al Qaida hands, and the status of those tribal chiefs appears grim.

Small wonder many veterans who fought in that conflict now feel deflated. The United States spilled precious blood to liberate that area. David Bellavia, who won a Silver Star for heroism in Fallujah, told USA Today, “That ground, to me it’s hallowed.”

The fall of Fallujah and Ramadi represent a massive failure for the Obama administration and could portend further troubles ahead in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even in the United States.

The administration failed to secure a deal with the Iraqi government to allow a troop presence to remain there after the U.S. withdrawal. Now it appears as if attempts at a similar agreement in Afghanistan are faltering, as well. Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has steadfastly refused to sign an agreement allowing U.S. forces to remain after the general pullout is completed at the end of this year.

The Obama administration continues to threaten a withdrawal unless a bilateral agreement can be reached soon. But Karzai’s term as president ends with elections in April. The United States should ignore him and do all it can to secure relations with his successor, making sure an agreement is signed when power is transferred. Leaving Afghanistan entirely is not in either nation’s best interest, with Taliban insurgents no-doubt eager to strike.

In recent history, the United States has had to maintain a long-term presence in various nations in which it has secured liberty. Germany, Japan and South Korean are examples of this. This has done nothing to diminish the independence of those nations. Instead, it has helped them to establish peace and protected them from trouble.

Admittedly, Iraq and Afghanistan offer a unique set of challenges in a violent and unstable part of the world. But that is all the more reason to maintain a presence. Losing ground would bode ill for the United States.

No one should forget al Qaida’s role in the 9/11 attacks on U.S. soil. A resurgent al Qaida likely will not stop with gains in far-off countries. After 12 years of war with the West, terrorists are, if anything, more likely than ever to focus on harming the United States.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States supports Iraq but will not send soldiers. This fight, he said, “belongs to the Iraqis.”

That is a cold-hearted way of telling those tribal chiefs who allied themselves with U.S. forces a decade ago that loyalty goes only in one direction. It also is a tacit admission that the administration is willing to let the lives sacrificed in Iraq go for naught — the result of failing to secure a long-term presence in that country.

The same must not be allowed to happen in Afghanistan.

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