It's the Strategy

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When you read something like this your stomach just turns:

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 22, says that after she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she'd be out of a job.

And, of course, while people who favor an open-ended American military commitment in Iraq probably don't specifically believe that instances of rape and kidnapping ought to be papered over in silence, I think we can all predict that this is a story that will be widely covered on anti-war websites, and basically ignored on pro-war ones. Meanwhile, Megan McArdle says doves need to acknowledge the improving nature of the situation in Iraq where it does indeed seem that those who managed not to die in 2007 or 2006 can look forward to enjoying 2005 levels of violence in 2008 (but in segregated neighborhoods) after they're forcibly repatriated from their refugee camps.

Which is perhaps as good a time as any to restate the basic point that while anecdotes hither and there can make people feel good or bad about the war, the basic strategic questions are fairly indifferent to the ebbing and flowing of news. Back in 2003 and 2004 I thought, as I think most people thought, that keeping US forces in Iraq until a new government could be organized was a reasonable thing to do despite the costs. It seemed to me that the elections in early 2005 were a good time to announce a mutually agreed-upon schedule for the withdrawal of American troops. It didn't happen. Many argued throughout 2005 that the chances of preventing the sort of ethnic cleansing and civil violence that we saw in 2006 was a good reason to keep troops there. I disagreed, but the troops stayed and the violence came. Then many argued that the chances of preventing the sort of worsening of the violence that we saw in 2007 was a good reason to keep troops there. I disagreed, but the troops stayed and the violence worsened.

Now the violence seems to be ebbing, which is good. The US also, sensibly, seems to have started taking the more conciliatory line toward anti-government Sunni Arab rebel groups that doves had generally been advocating as far back as 2004, which is also good. But the question of what it is our military presence in Iraq is for and why it's worth the considerable direct financial costs, opportunity costs, and the so-called "human costs" (rape victims held under guard in shipping containers, that sort of thing) is, if anything, more acute than ever. How many casualties is the right price to pay for permanent basing rights in Iraq? How much money should we spend for war advocates to be able to maintain that they weren't wrong, that Bush just used bad tactics for a while, and that it all turned out for the best in the end? How much damage should be done to our posture in Central Asia for the sake of giving counterinsurgency theorists a chance to show their stuff in a theater where they government is prepared to provide a lot of resources?

Meanwhile, in Iraq violence is down unless you're one of the nine people killed today and as long as the political situation remains unsettled things could always get worse again (except this time with better trained and better equipped forces on all sides) but maybe they won't and either way the question about American strategy remains.

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

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