Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is it really likely that leaving before the job was done would be a disaster in Iraq and the region?

Many Democrats quivered in their boots when they heard President Bush say at his recent news conference that:

Leaving before the job would be done would send a message that America really is no longer engaged or cares about the form of governments in the Middle East. Leaving before the job is done would send a signal to our troops that the sacrifices they made were not worth it. Leaving before the job was done would be a disaster. And that’s what we’re saying.

Sure, I agreed with the essence of that statement, but on second thought I do believe that it may be fundamentally flawed.

At heart, it is a commitment to the misguided concept of a "Domino Theory" in which one failure inexorably leads to another and another and so on all the way down the line.

But we do have a little experience with the so-called "Domino Theory", with Vietnam.

Sure, dramatic chaos ensued when the U.S. abruptly pulled out of Vietnam. It was arguably a "disaster". And Vietnam invaded Laos and Cambodia. Two more dominos falling to the Communists. But, then, the dominos stopped falling. The theory stopped working in practice. Vietnam pulled back to its own borders. They had stretched too far. They retrenched. Incrementally Vietnam evolved, and today is a far cry from the obvious "disaster" that it was when the U.S. abruptly withdrew in 1975.

Would Iraq follow a similar path as did Vietnam? Hard to say, but we simply cannot deny that it is possible.

I do not advocate a Vietnam-style abrupt departure (nor do many Democrats), but we shouldn't cringe in such horror at Bush's "warning".

Is there going to be some major "point" in time when leaving Iraq works, but leaving a few months earlier "courts disaster"? Actually, I don't think so. I am not so sure that there is even a scale of "disaster" based on when we leave. It may matter more how we leave than when we leave.

The really, really, really important thing to do right now is to loudly and clearly deliver the message to Iraq, its people, and its political and community leaders that our departure clock is ticking and they had better get their act together ASAP.

Ultimately, it may in fact be better to simply have Iraq go "cold turkey" and depend on the needs of the current political and social environment to "forge" a leadership that works for them.

Ultimately, the Iraq war planners, especially Doug Feith, had it precisely right by insisting that it simply wasn't possible to have a detailed, specific plan for post-war Iraq and that facts on the ground would determine the path. I think they expected that path to be a lot less bumpy, but I don't know of anybody who is honestly and sincerely proposing a detailed and specific plan at this time, or at any other time.

There are of course some details that some people do care about. In particular, many of the Neocon elite dearly wish to see out a complete and successful de-Baathification of the political leadership in Iraq. Others argue for an accommodation with the former Baathists that would alleviate the "insurgency", but the Neocons are rather adamant. My view is that we have probably done as much as is humanly possible on that front, so there really wouldn't be a lot of downside to exiting without further effort on our part on that front, and there would be significant benefits to allowing the Iraqis to resolve the lingering issues on their own.

There is also the issue of whether Iraq might do better as three distinct political units, but once again we have already done the heavy lifting and if that isn't enough, maybe nothing would be enough. Besides, I'm not hearing a lot of clamoring for a true political division. Some form of loose federalism is probably good enough, at least for now.

Disaster? No, I think the mess would get somewhat messier, but gradually evolve towards as non-mess a situation as we have any right to hope for.

I would personally prefer a much more gradual, incremental, nuanced withdrawal, but I could live with as abrupt a withdrawal as Pentagon logistics planners can muster.

How about "Home for Christmas" as a campaign theme for dealing with Iraq?

-- Jack Krupansky


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