Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Is a withdrawal date a good idea?

There was heated debate in the Senate yesterday over the necessity/folly of setting a withdrawal date in Iraq. Here are some of the arguments presented by the opposing sides via the NYT - Senate Supports a Pullout Date in Iraq War Bill:
Pro deadline arguments-
“There will not be a military solution to Iraq,” Mr. Hagel declared. “Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. It doesn’t belong to the United States. Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost.”
I agree with this statement whole-heartedly. The administration keeps repeating that our troops need more time so that we can win, but I don't see how a real victory is possible in Iraq. In many ways, we were defeated before we ever started. We never should have gone into Iraq, and I've held that position from the beginning.
“Rather than continuing to defy the will of the American people and Congress by threatening to veto this legislation,” Mr. Kennedy said, “President Bush should put the Iraqis on notice.”
I also agree that the Iraqis need to be put on notice. If democracy is not something they are willing to fight for, then it is not something they are going to have for very long even if we hand it to them on a silver platter. Ideally democracy is a bottom-up process. It's like winning in sports - you have to want it bad enough to get it.

And the Anti-withdrawal date arguments-
“This bill should be named the Date Certain for Surrender Act,” said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. “A second-year cadet at West Point could tell you that if you announce when the end will be, it’s a recipe for defeat.”

[. . .]

“We cannot give up,” Mr. McCain said, “just as we are starting to turn things around in Iraq.”
I've never been a cadet at West Point, so I don't know what they know, but it sounds reasonable. The only problem is, as pointed out above, I agree with Senator Hagel that there is no military victory on the horizon in Iraq. Starting the war in the first place was the recipe for defeat. Continuing to pour money and troops into a bad situation is the epitome of the old adage of throwing good money after bad.
“It would be the bugle of retreat,” Mr. Warner said. “It would be echoed and repeated from every minaret through Iraq: the coalition forces have decided to take the first step backward. We cannot send that message. Not at this time.”
He's right. I will be "echoed and repeated from every minaret through Iraq," but there is little we can do to stop it. The problem is that the terrorist win either way. If we continue to stay and fight, we look like an occupying force and we are an easy target those who want to accuse the US of neo-Imperialism. Terrorist organizations can use our mere presence as a recruiting tool.

On the other hand, if we leave, they appear to have defeated us. I have heard it argued on many occasions that Osama bin Laden was emboldened by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, giving him the belief that a relatively small band of rebels could defeat a superpower. And it was this belief that gave him the will to attack the US on Sept. 11th.

The ultimate problem is that this administration has already placed us in a no win situation. If we had only gone into Afghanistan, which we had wide international support to do, and stayed the course until the mission was truly completed, we wouldn't be in this mess right now. Bush was hell bent on attacking Iraq for a reason that is not fully evident at this point, but I doubt it had much to do with the phony intelligence we were given at the time (I suspect it had something to do with proving something to his Daddy, but I could be wrong). I fear this is a mistake that we will be paying for for years to come.

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