Conviction: The Timeless Ideal


Sir Winston Churchill


“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill

Some may render the ideal obsolete or naively optimistic, but like Sir Winston Churchill I still believe great virtues inhabit conviction. By conviction, I mean remaining committed to a noble cause or greater good despite the hardships or suffering entailed. Without it, our forefathers might have abandoned building the profoundly innovative foundation of our new nation; or the Allies might have surrendered to the strident enemy forces of WWII. Most of what we value today can be attributed to the conviction of our leaders during history’s most tumultuous eras.

We are facing such an era again today. The inherent stressfulness of war is a particularly rigorous test of a nation’s conviction. Some leaders weather the stress better than others. In this war, it is the Democrats who are faltering. Even many staunch Republicans are surprised by their fervent willingness to cut and run…under the guise of peace, in pursuit of political gain.

In Oct. 2002, Sen. Hillary Clinton solemnly testified about her conviction in the rightness of going to war in Iraq. Her decision to vote in favor of the war resolution was not made in a vacuum. During that time, much was said about a potentially lengthy military engagement. Intelligence on WMDs was equally available to all members of Congress. She herself described the decision as “hard” but justifiable. Sen. Clinton was joined by many other prominent Democrats to include then Sen. Al Gore, Sen. John Kerry and Rep. John D. Murtha.

Yet this week, in the ultimate flip flop, Sen. Clinton moved to repeal Congressional authorization for the Iraq war. It seems that her earlier conviction was too hard, too politically inconvenient to uphold. Appealing to national anxieties (and a nervous electorate) is apparently a higher calling.

Don’t misinterpret this observation. It’s crucial for leaders to recognize when it’s time to change course, when an initiative ultimately does more harm than good. To do otherwise is blind idealism. But the war in Iraq is far from being blindly pursued. In fact, to withdraw our military support from Iraq, well before the nation is secure, is blind cowardice and selfishness. Sen. Clinton and 372 other members of the House and Senate voted to start this war. The instability in Iraq is necessarily our responsibility.

It’s well known that Sen. John McCain accepts and understands this responsibility. He also understand that much good can yet result from a continued to commitment to our efforts in Iraq. Not only is there an opportunity to help a once-oppressed population build decent lives, there’s the real possibility of spreading democracy and stability throughout the region. But the process, as we’ve learned, won’t take place over night. In fact, it may take decades. And while our military action to date has not been as effective as hoped, that does not mean we’ve exhausted all our options. Many opportunities – including revising our tactics, strengthening Iraq’s moderate base and building stronger international coalitions – remain under-explored and potentially powerful remedies.

Conversely, abandoning the war we began can only lead to more terror and violence in Iraq, the region and, eventually the United States. Without our support, the unrelenting viciousness of the insurgency will take hold. It will be at that point, we can say for certain that we have failed.

To the nation’s Democratic leadership I would say this: you were not wrong in your vote to support the war four years ago. Despite the setbacks and difficulties, despite the lack of a “smoking gun,” much promise remains for the country and the region. Innovation, hope and prosperity are the offspring of conviction. Though not obvious, all is far from being lost. To take leave of this conviction prematurely, especially for transient political gain, will ultimately fail us all. To stand fast with leaders like John McCain is the wellspring for stability and a marker of our nation’s character.

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