Though al-Qaida has regained control in some parts of Iraq, the Americans who served there should be proud of their service, says Stephen Hadley, the former assistant to the president for National Security Affairs under George W. Bush.
"All is not lost," Hadley writes in an op-ed piece published online Thursday night by The Wall Street Journal
"Americans who served [in Iraq] can be proud of their service: toppling a brutal dictator, defeating al-Qaida in Iraq in 2007-08, and giving the Iraqi people a chance to build a nation unique in the history of Iraq and the Middle East," he writes.
Now it's time for Washington and its allies to do their part to "make sure that this opportunity is not squandered," he added, including congressional approval of the funding and transfer of missiles, helicopters and other military equipment.
"The American people need to understand that their own security now rides on this fight," he wrote. "For we know this about al-Qaida: Ultimately, Americans and our interests, friends and territory will be their target."
Hadley lamented that "people have forgotten" the bloody and violent history of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but that U.S. soldiers have every right to "be proud of their role in ending this criminal regime and freeing the Iraqi people from a brutal tyrant."
America needs only to look to Syria to see "what happens when a bloody dictator goes unchecked," he wrote.
"The removal of Saddam opened up a very different possibility: an Iraq in which Sunni, Shiites, Kurds, Christians and other minorities would work together to build a democratic and peaceful future," Hadley wrote.
Conceding mistakes made by both the Bush and Obama administrations in Iraq, Hadley said the recent spike in al-Qaida attacks in Iraq "results from nearly three years of civil war in neighboring Syria, mistakes by the Iraqi government, and an inadequate response from the U.S. and its regional allies."
And he wrote the numbers of "foreign fighters involved" are in the thousands, "more than were present at the height of the Iraq War."
Yet Hadley said he's optimistic about Americans' help in building and training an an Iraqi security force, and that Sunni tribes "are rejoining the fight against al-Qaida."
If the Sunni gain the greater role in the Iraqi government they're seeking, it could help restore "the original vision of a tolerant and inclusive Iraq," he wrote.
Hadley also pointed out now that the Arab Spring euphoria of 2011 has faded, the region needs an example of communities working together to defeat terrorism, establish "tolerant and inclusive politics" and produce a growing economy.
"If it can overcome its current challenges, Iraq can be that example," Hadley wrote.
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