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OUR VIEW: Staying out of Iraq doesn't demean service of dead soldiers

In a piece we published Monday, Cal Thomas, a syndicated columnist, quoted the portion of the Gettysburg Address in which Abraham Lincoln called for increased devotion to winning the Civil War so that "these dead shall not have died in vain."

Thomas used the Lincoln quotation to assert that if the United States does not somehow fix the worsening situation in Iraq, the American soldiers who died during and after the recent war in Iraq will have died in vain.

We don't agree with a strictly literal interpretation of Lincoln's statement. Surely Lincoln realized, notwithstanding his need to make an inspiring speech, that if the Union had lost the Civil War, the deaths of Union soldiers would not have been entirely in vain. The preservation of the Union and the abolition of slavery were worth fighting and dying for, win or lose. There was honor not just in winning but also in the effort.

Thomas did a disservice to Lincoln and the country by applying Lincoln's 151-year-old words about the American Civil War to what could be called a modern civil war in the Middle East.

"No life is more wasted than one lost in vain," Thomas wrote.

Soldiers and veterans alike should be offended by that statement. It implies that a dead soldier's service only has value if it occurs on the winning side.

Unlike Thomas, we do not believe that if Iraq falls further into chaos, the service of the 4,480 Americans who recently perished there will have been in vain or wasted. They volunteered to serve their country and paid the ultimate price, and that's a sacrifice that should always be valued no matter the outcome of the conflict or the aftermath.

Of course, this all boils down to a fundamental disagreement about America's role in the world. We support President Obama's decisions to keep the United States out of further military entanglements in the Middle East. Our nation cannot solve Afghanistan's or Iraq's problems, any more than a foreign country could have solved the United States' problems during our own Civil War. We must be on guard against terrorists who could launch strikes against us, but aggressive U.S. military intervention in the internal struggles of the Middle East will only encourage, not prevent, terrorism against us.

If we really want to honor the sacrifices of those Americans who've already died in Iraq, we should do everything we can to avoid sending more Americans to die on foreign soil.