The Only Real Option: Leave Iraq Now
Good lord, if even Henry Kissinger now says that military victory in Iraq is impossible, pretty soon George W. Bush really will be left with just Laura and Barney on his side.
The Decider Agonistes must be feeling betrayed and abused these days. British Prime Minister Tony Blair's admission that the war has been "pretty much of a disaster" was just a slip of the tongue, but the president must have felt it as a cut most unkind.
And Kissinger? The oracle who has been dropping by the White House regularly to whisper sweet nothings into the presidential ear, urging him to hang tough? The sage who wrote in August 2005 that "victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy" is now listing Bush's conditions for withdrawal -- a stable government, ruling all of Iraq, with the ability to control the violence -- and pronouncing them unattainable. Will anyone be surprised if Henry the K soon reveals that he knew the whole thing was folly all along?
Meanwhile, the neocon architects of the war are making a spectacle of themselves in their undignified flight from the sinking ship. Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, Michael Rubin -- they all take pretty much the same line, which is that the invasion was a great and noble idea but that the White House and the Pentagon bungled it horribly.
Defections, recrimination and finger-pointing among the people who got us into this mess provide an amusing sideshow. But the main event is the mandate that midterm voters imposed this month, in no uncertain terms: Find a way out.
Sen. John McCain has planted his flag at one extreme of the debate, making the counterintuitive argument that the way to get out of Iraq is to send in a lot more U.S. troops who would stabilize the country as a necessary prelude to withdrawal. By "counterintuitive," I mean "divorced from reality as we know it." For one thing, the troops McCain wants to send do not exist -- the military is stretched paper-thin as it is, and I don't think Rep. Charles Rangel's proposal to reinstate the draft is going to get very far. For another, McCain doesn't specify how all those magically conjured reinforcements are supposed to accomplish such a mission.
In a sectarian civil war, the last place you want to stand is in the middle. Is the United States really going to choose sides and then lend a hand as Shiite or Sunni death squads go about their awful business?
At the other end of the debate is Rep. John Murtha, who says we should cut our losses and start pulling out. At least Murtha doesn't pretend we'd be leaving behind a secure, viable Iraq, because we wouldn't.
The new, post-midterm mainstream position in Washington is to support "phased withdrawals," with or without telling anyone in advance when a new phase will begin, and to involve "the neighbors," meaning Iran and Syria, in forcing Iraqi politicians to reach "a political solution." James Baker and his Iraq Study Group will probably come up with some variation of this scenario. But we should be honest and acknowledge that phased withdrawals, with or without a stated timetable, really mean just telling the Iraqis good luck and adios, drawing the whole process out in a belated attempt to save face.
The president clearly doesn't want to hear any of this. The bizarre analogy he made in Hanoi -- comparing Iraq to Vietnam and saying, "We'll succeed unless we quit" -- doesn't even make sense in his own parallel universe. He should ask his friend Kissinger to tell him about that Ho Chi Minh guy whose picture is plastered all over Vietnam.
But while the Decider covers his ears and rewrites history, the center of gravity of the debate has shifted from whether we should get out of Iraq to how and when.
If we are ready to acknowledge, as Kissinger does, that the president's goals in Iraq will never be accomplished, then how do we justify the American lives that will be lost next year, next month or next week, while the phases of a face-saving withdrawal run their course?
If American troops begin pulling out tomorrow, Iraq surely will suffer a terrible spasm of bloody violence. But if we wait a year and then pull out, there is no reason to expect any different outcome. Quite the contrary: The longer we stay, the more lawless and chaotic the country becomes. And the more young Americans die in a war that no longer has an attainable goal.