Bob Kaplan backs the Petraeus plan of damage-limitation/indefinite occupation because the alternative would be worse. He realizes that even the best scenario is a grim one:

[E]ven if Iraq were brought gradually to rights, and the clerical regime in Iran were to suffer severe setbacks, it would still be hard to justify the loss of tens of thousands of lives merely for the sake of strategic positioning.

Of course, the mullahs in Tehran do not seem to be suffering because of our action in their neighboring country. Bob's bottom line is just as austere:

I suspect we will be stuck in Iraq with tens of thousands of troops for years to come. The results we obtain may be meager, but they'll still be better than if we suddenly withdrew.

We need to be clear here: what we're deciding to do is to occupy Iraq for the rest of our lifetimes. Success in preventing the place from becoming a spiraling vortex of chaos and genocide means probably around 100,000 troops for a decade at least - with up to 5,000 more dead Americans in that time period, and countless more lives crippled by injury. The war has wrecked America's moral standing, added to the already monumental fiscal burden of the next generation, empowered Iran, and the opportunity costs are hard to fathom. What's staggering to me is that the intellectually honest defenders of the surge, like Bob, acknowledge most of this. But they still believe withdrawal would be worse. That's how bad it is; that's how huge a mistake this has been. I don't know if Bob is right that we should carry on regardless - none of us can know. But I doubt it. Matt does too.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to