What to do about Iraq

Former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, has a very nice essay (subscription site) over at The New Republic about what to do in Iraq.  What he does most effectively in the essay is poke substantial holes in most of the rationales for a fairly open-ended commitment.  Here, I think is his best argument:

A similarly illogical argument for staying
in Iraq is that chaos will follow any near-term U.S. withdrawal. The
flaw lies not in the concept that chaos will happen, but rather in
thinking that chaos will only happen if we withdraw in the near-term. Chaos will almost certainly follow any U.S. withdrawal, whether in 2008 or 2012.

A more refined argument to extend our stay
is that the calamity following a 2008 withdrawal would be worse than
the chaos after a 2012 departure. But how can we have strong confidence
in such a prediction–which assumes that more time means progress–when
the United States and Iraq have produced so little in the way of
progress thus far? Even granting that chaos after a 2008 pullout may be
worse than what would follow a 2012 withdrawal, is the difference
between those two levels of disaster worth the cost? This cost comes in
American dead and wounded, Iraqi dead and wounded, billions of dollars
in military expenditures, the continued damage to U.S. influence in the
world, and the further strengthening of radical Islamist terrorists
everywhere. We cannot have high confidence that the cost is worth
whatever improvement there would be in the two levels of
post-withdrawal chaos.

After briefly laying out a plan for withdrawal, Clarke offers this conclusion by putting Iraq into a larger historical context:

Are there problems with this plan? Of
course. But our current approach–maintaining that we can fix Iraq if
we just try a bit harder–is likely more seriously flawed and more
costly than the alternative. Still, President Bush insists on staying
in Iraq, and it is easy to understand why. In The March of Folly,
Barbara Tuchman documented repeated instances when leaders persisted in
disastrous policies well after they knew that success was no longer an
available outcome. They did so because the personal consequences of
admitting failure would be very high. So they postponed the disastrous
end to their policy adventures, hoping for a deus ex machina or to
eventually shift the blame. There is no need to do that now. Everyone
already knows who is to blame. It is time to stop the adventure, lower
our sights, and focus on America's core interests. And that means
withdrawal of major combat units.

Maybe I'm missing something, but Clarke has proven himself a shrewd analyst in the past and I'm with him here. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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