If you watched the C-SPAN broadcast of the House debate last Friday night and thought your cable system had reassigned the channel to Spike TV and you were watching WWF Smackdown, you heard a lot of Republicans say that if we left Iraq within six months there would be chaos, civil war, and lots of civilians will be killed. Not like what’s going on now.
Mr. Bush has made a big point of saying that we will stay in Iraq as long as it is necessary to complete the mission. However, he has yet to tell us what will be the measure of “Mission Accomplished” (Oh, I’m sorry — does that bring back a bad memory?) and when we could start planning to withdraw some of the troops. But if Mr. Bush doesn’t tell us, perhaps the military will; after all, he has said that he is relying on the “sober judgment of the military commanders on the ground.” Well, the military seems to think it will be about…six months. As Paul Krugman notes,
The fact is that we’re not going to stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, whatever that means in this context. At most, we’ll stay until the American military can take no more.
So the question isn’t whether things will be ugly after American forces leave Iraq. They probably will. The question, instead, is whether it makes sense to keep the war going for another year or two, which is all the time we realistically have.
Pessimists think that Iraq will fall into chaos whenever we leave. If so, we’re better off leaving sooner rather than later. As a Marine officer quoted by James Fallows in the current Atlantic Monthly puts it, “We can lose in Iraq and destroy our Army, or we can just lose.”
The problem is that the Bush administration has treated the entire war, including the run-up, the presentation of the evidence, and now the execution, as a huge PR campaign instead of what it really is; the commitment of lives and fortunes in battle. Therefore they treat it as if it was one more campaign for office, one more justification for the election of George W. Bush, and, as is the fashion of the people that run his campaigns, one more big chance to slander and demonize those who might venture to express an opinion that is contrary to theirs.
The last time we fought a war in this manner was the first time we lost a war. Vietnam was treated by both Presidents Johnson and Nixon as not just a battle to defeat an entrenched insurgency on their own land but as a test of wills in a political battle to win the the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese and of the Americans, and we lost on both fronts. Mr. Bush is repeating the same mistake; something he could have avoided had he actually learned something from history. Rep. Murtha was there, so he should know when it’s time to bring them home.