The Fifteen Years' War

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Rep. Jan Shakowsky took a trip to Iraq:

But the military presentations left her stunned. Schakowsky said she jotted down Petraeus's words in a small white notebook she had brought along to record her impressions. Her neat, looping handwriting filled page after page, and she flipped through to find the Petraeus section. " 'We will be in Iraq in some way for nine to 10 years,' " Schakowsky read carefully. She had added her own translation: "Keep the train running for a few months, and then stretch it out. Just enough progress to justify more time."

"I felt that was a stretch and really part of a PR strategy -- just like the PR strategy that initially led up to the war in the first place," Schakowsky said. Petraeus, she said, "acknowledged that if the policymakers decide that we need to withdraw, that, you know, that's what he would have to do. But he felt that in order to win, we'd have to be there nine or 10 years."

It really is striking how un-optimistic the more optimistic views of Iraq are when you get down to it. Michael O'Hanlon thinks our strategy "probably can't succeed" unless the political situation in Iraq magically alters. General Petraeus thinks he's making so much progress that the war will need to continue twice as long again as it's already gone on. More to the point, once you're looking at that kind of time frame, all forecasts are nonsensical. We could leave tomorrow and ten years might be plenty of time for Iraq to descend deeper into civil war, for the civil war to end, and then for stability to emerge. There's just no telling. Petraeus is saying that there's no light at the end of the tunnel.>

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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