I couldn't say it any better than Major Andrew Olmsted. But I will interpolate:
If the Iraqi Army cannot be built up to the degree necessary to restore order, there aren't any particularly good alternatives available to us.
Staying in Iraq may help to keep a ceiling on the violence, but that is a ticket to an indefinite presence in Iraq that will not only mean neverending losses for both our forces and Iraqi civilians, but an ongoing goad to Islamists who will seek to strike us in the United States in retribution for our occupation of Iraq.
And yet it is being reported that we are now not merely planning to stay in Iraq, but to expand our military commitment there.
Leaving Iraq may open the floodgates to a level of violence that would make the current carnage a fond memory.
Ultimately, we have no good choices unless there's a way I'm not aware of to create a national consciousness in the Iraqi Army.
Does anyone--anyone--believe any longer that this can be done?
As such, while I hate to say it, I think that withdrawal may be the best available option. Yes, the enemy would trumpet that as a success to the high heavens (with some justification, I should note). Yes, we'd be condemning a lot of Iraqis to die (and I believe Hilzoy is correct that we should take in as many Iraqis as want to come if we do leave).
Sad to say, a lot of Iraqis are going to die no matter what we do.
Yes, the Middle East would be left all higgledy-piggledy.
Certainly, it wouldn't be as stable and secure is it is today!
But there are good sides to withdrawal as well. We could stop the gradual degradation of our armed forces, allowing us to rebuild them in case they are needed elsewhere.
Like in Afghanistan, for instance, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda (remember them? the people responsible for September 11?) are resurgent.
We could reestablish a credible deterrent to Iran's nuclear ambitions, while removing a handy means for Iran to threaten us. We would at least reduce the rate at which we're generating new terrorists looking to strike at America for our perceived crimes. Over the longer term we might even remove ourselves from our current position as target number one for the angry and disaffected millions who see our poking around their countries as good reason to return the favor.
I make no pretense that this would be a good answer. I hate the thought of abandoning so many Iraqis to their fates, even if we do attempt to get as many Iraqis as possible to the United States to protect those who have risked so much for us. No matter how many we get out, there will still be plenty left for the slaughter when we're gone. And there's little doubt in my mind that our withdrawal will inspire further attacks on the U.S., so we still need to find a way to deal with that. But maintaining the status quo shows little evidence that it will lead us to a good outcome, and there is good reason to believe it may leave us worse off over the long term.
Hasn't insanity been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
Unless the Bush administration can present a reasonable plan to Congress that is widely seen as offering a reasonable chance of success, rather than simply promising to forestall some feared future doom, it's time to look at how to extract our forces from Iraq with the least amount of risk to them and those Iraqis who have worked with us.
This is a sad, bleak, but ultimately clear-eyed post. That sound you hear in the background is the last helicopter taking off from the roof of the American embassy in Baghdad and the screams of the Iraqis who are left behind. Still, I believe that in time America was viewed more favorably and did itself geopolitical good by abandoning South Vietnam to the inevitable. And while the North Vietnamese victory was a terrible thing for many Vietnamese people, it was not as terrible as, say, the genocide in Cambodia.
Back in 2004, Ron Suskind wrote in the New York Times about a conversation he had had with a senior advisor to the President:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Discernible reality, it now appears, can only be denied so long.