Should We Retreat from Iraq?

Glenn Reynolds quotes Ann Althouse as follows:

"It's the failure of Americans to support the war. It's the folding and
crumpling because things didn't go well enough and the way we
conspicuously displayed that to our enemies. They're going to use that
information. For how long? Forever."

Despite my initial opposition to the war in Iraq, once we were there I have always been a stay the course guy.  Partially for the reason that Althouse mentions, the damage to our credibility, and partially just because we have made a commitment to the Iraqi people and it would be dishonorable to leave them in the current mess without help.

What Althouse misses is this:  American's are not necessarily ready to give up on the war in Iraq, but they are ready to give up on the Administration's management of it.  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  This is how many folks, including myself, see our effort in Iraq.  We beat our head over and over against the same wall in the same place, expecting different results, and we don't get them.  People need to see an acknowledgment that the current approach is not working, so we are going to try X instead.

In this context, "stay the course" looks less attractive.  Because no one can seem to communicate what the extra time is going to buy us.  What will be done in three more years that was not done in the last three?  Or will we have to support the Iraqi's for decades against their own desire to tear themselves apart, so twenty years from now we can say "well, it took all our capacity and the military got nothing else done, but we finally converted one bad regime out of about fifty out there to a democracy."

I am willing to give the administration one more shot to define success in Iraq and a plan for getting there.  Right now, many Americans feel like the only two choices are "retreat now, with Iraq still a mess" and "retreat in five years, with Iraq still a mess and after a lot more casualties."  The administration is going to have to define an option 3 to get people back on board.


  1. Daublin:

    Many people say this in general. Rumsfeld sucks. "The" strategy of the administration sucks. However, almost no one wants to get specific. Would you care to take the challenge and say what you would like to see done differently?

    Under Bush and Rumsfeld, we saw the old government forces demolished, a great constitution written by and ratified by Iraqis, elections held, parties formed, coallitions formed, and Al Qaeda's forces defeated. In the course of this, the strategy of the multi-national force has changed numerous times as circumstances changed. It used to be that entire cities were held by insurgents. Nowadays all they have are random bombings and attacks on civilians.

    There are big challenges remaining for sure. Al-Sadr's militia is large and is poised to take over should the foreign forces pull out, and al-Sadr has in fact claimed he would prefer to set up a theocracy. What will happen next?

    Whatever it is, I don't even see what it would mean to try the "same thing". The situation now is too different from even a year ago.

  2. William Hallowell:

    The real question, now that the Democrats have gained control of Congress by focusing on foreign policy, is "what now?" And that's going to be tough, because opinion surveys show the public doesn't have a lot of confidence in any of the strategies on the table. This Public Agenda survey found only two options, better intelligence gathering and reducing dependence on foreign energy, get any real support from the public.

  3. Rob:


    That's the problem.

    Teddy R. said "Walk softly and carry a big stick."

    This works until the other side becomes convinced you won't use the stick. When the stick is used, use should not stop until total victory is in hand.

    Another "stick" that has not been used effectively: the veto pen

    Step up, smack the opponent until he doesn't get back up again - THEN bind up his wounds and help him to stand.

    We keep getting it backward in an attempt to be kinder and gentler. Victory first.

  4. pacwaters:

    It will probably be impossible to completely rid Iraq of suicide bombings (just as it's impossible to permanently rid south central of gangs) until the iraqis themselves take the job in hand. All that can be expected is to achieve some level of reduction and control.

  5. Eric H:

    I saw a woman interviewed the other day on CNN (?); she was a woman-in-the-street interview and they were looking for people's reactions when told Rumsfeld had resigned. She began to cry. When asked why, she explained that she had a relative over there, and now she knew that someone would take care of him.

    Oh, please.

    You get cared for, in decreasing order of level of concern and ability to actually do something meaningful, by your buddies, NCOs, junior officers, ranking officers, general staff, and the Office of the Sec. of Defense. Oh, and by the way, the new Secretary is picked by the same guy that picked the last one.

  6. BobH:

    But her performance guaranteed that that her segment would be shown. Kudos to her for playing the CNN folks wisely and gaining her fifteen seconds of fame.

  7. Mariano T.:

    Pelosi is right, this is just a mess to handle, not a war to win.
    The first question that must be asked is: What is victory in the iraqi context?
    Who is the enemy?
    Al Qaeda?(new problem, because there was no al Qaeda in Iraq during Saddam tiranny)
    Radical Shiites?(another new problem, Saddam dealt with them with massive killings, is America willing to do the same? Is there another option?
    Sunnies and the Baath Party? (They appear to be more inerested lately in killing shiites than facing american soldiers)
    The Islam?
    Invading Iraq was completely nosense, as germans and french warned before the war, nothing to do with war on terrorism, great fall in the reputation of America at teh rest of the world, distraction of valuable men, money, etc. And the tragedy is that there wont be a victory, nor a clean way out.
    Pelosi is right, this is just a mess to handle, not a war to win.
    Probably the solution is a partition of the country in three new states(that mean a lot of suffering for people, but probably less than current situation)

  8. Bob Smith:

    Option 3: pull out of Iraq, take the Christians to Israel or some other safe place (to save them from what follows). Do the same, if you can, with every other infidel group in the middle east. Muslims will no doubt loudly proclaim victory; they are wrong. Then, foment the natural divisions within Islam and get the Sunnis and Shiites down to the business of killing each other instead of infidels. Total regional war; stability is for losers. Put the smackdown on the Sudanese Muslims: stop what you're doing or we exterminate *all* of you. Make sure every other Muslim insurgency (Malaysia, Phillipines, etc) gets the same message. You may have to make an example of one or two of them; do so without hesitation. Muslims worldwide will whine, but terrorists (that's what Muslim "insurgents" and their civilian supporters are) have no right to complain. Make one thing clear: Allah will not save them.

  9. Matthew:

    We should retreat from Iraq the day that the Iraqi government asks us to, and not a day before or a day after.

  10. Binh:

    What's the difference between Viet Nam and Iraq? None, except for the total casualties thus far.
    If we don't know how to fight terrorism here how can we know to fight it there? we didn't know how to stop Timothy so why do we have to spend so much resources going after a guy that lives in a cave 24/7?
    How do we know with certainty that Al-Qaeda will take over if we leave Iraq? because CNN told us so, the President said so, or we as Americans are soothsayers?
    How do we know "democracy","equality", "capitalism" will work in Iraq? because it works here and we are the great nation therefore it must work everywhere?

    We came, we conquered, we wreaked havoc in their daily lives, we made mistakes, we accept our mistakes, we retreat. The world will laugh and criticize us, so what? Naive? yes but simple and at least we don't have this discussion next year.