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Losing Our Will to Win

By Ed Koch

The Islamic terrorists or as President Bush calls them -- Islamic fascists -- are continuing their ruthless bombing campaign in Iraq and Afghanistan. The casualty numbers are staggering.

Nearly every day in Iraq alone, 50 or more civilians are found tortured and their mutilated bodies are dumped on city streets. The number of American military personnel killed in Iraq is 2,670 and 19,945 have been injured. In Afghanistan, 276 Americans have been killed and 930 injured. Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated to be between 41,000 and 46,000. Afghan civilian deaths are estimated at 3,485 with 6,200 injured.

The effect on Americans at home has been devastating. In a recent CNN survey, "58 percent of poll respondents said they are opposed to the war, compared with 39 percent who approve of it."

I believe this war of civilizations, which was brought to our shores in 2001, is one of the most important wars we have ever fought. In the Revolutionary War back in 1775-1783, we had extraordinary leaders, including George Washington, chosen as General and Commander-in-Chief and later elected President of the United States. We forget that he lost almost every battle at the time, but he ultimately won the war. But there were moments -- the harsh winter at Valley Forge -- when it all looked hopeless and Washington was sharply criticized by fellow Americans. He had the strength to ultimately prevail and overcome the military defeats and personal attacks on his abilities.

Before we entered World War II in December 1941, most of Europe with the exception of Great Britain had been conquered by Nazi armies, and Russia, then the U.S.S.R., was retreating under attack. In World War II, American casualties totaled 291,577 dead and 671,846 injured. Under the extraordinary leadership of F.D.R., the Allies ultimately won the war, despite losing a number of battles. We would not have prevailed had the British not kept hope alive by continuing the battle when all of the other European nations had either surrendered or been overrun and accepted the Nazi regime. The Russians also were key to the Allies' success, having sacrificed 10 million Soviet soldiers in liberating their own occupied lands, as well as central Europe on their way to capturing Berlin. The Soviet losses in taking Berlin alone are estimated at 300,000.

Why do I recite these historical facts? Because I believe that the U.S. is faltering in the current war against international terrorism, and we are losing our will to prevail. We are losing our fighting spirit as a result of the fighting between Republicans and Democrats on just how to prosecute the war.

The President calls the war on terror "the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation." The President's speech was attacked, as usual, by a number of Democratic party leaders with Senator Ted Kennedy in the lead.

One of the worst attacks on the President came from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, himself a presidential candidate in 2008. He demanded that the President stop referring to those engaged in terrorist attacks against us and others as Islamic fascists. He said, "Fascist ideology...doesn't have anything to do with the way global terrorist networks think or operate, and it doesn't have anything to do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world who practice the peaceful teachings of Islam." But what about the tens of millions who are terrorists and want to kill us? Does he have a description for them? The media rarely call those engaged in acts of terrorism "terrorists," preferring to refer to them simply as "militants."

The President believes, as do I, that Islamic terrorists pose a mortal threat to this country and the West in general. Since those terrorists have already attacked the U.S. on a number of occasions -- 9-11, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the attacks on our embassies in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen and the army barracks in Saudi Arabia -- and have attacked commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191, and injuring 1,500, and the London subway, killing 52 and injuring 700, isn't it his duty to seek to rally and inform the nation? In attempting to prevent him from speaking out, are these Democratic Party leaders performing a public service? I don't think so.

People can disagree on whether we should have invaded Iraq. I believe on the basis of the "slam dunk" description and information provided at the time by CIA director George Tenet, the President made the right decision.

But all of that should be put aside, since we are there now. We have made major progress by ridding Iraq of a despot who is now on trial in an Iraqi court for having killed 50,000 Iraqi Kurds with poison gas, a WMD. The Iraqis have democratically elected a president and a congress. The challenge now is to prevent Iraq from further deteriorating into civil war and becoming another failed state that would be a terrorist haven and training ground.

My personal view is that if we told our regional allies -- Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan -- and our NATO allies that unless they join us with boots on the ground and share the casualties and cost of the ongoing war, we will leave; they would have no option but to come in; otherwise on our leaving the civil war would intensify and spill over Iraq's borders.

In all events, seeking as some do to make our involvement in Iraq a partisan issue and characterizing the President's efforts to protect the homeland from terrorists in an adversarial manner is endangering the country at a moment in time when we are facing an existential threat to our very survival as a nation.

Of course, the President, Vice President and Secretaries of Defense and State have made monumental mistakes in the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Great mistakes in handling the war against terror were also committed by prior administrations. Now is the time for everyone to acknowledge the enormity of the danger we face and for reasonable people in both parties to join together to formulate a unified approach to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed, to our foreign policy in the entire Middle East.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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