I Agree With Thomas Friedman

Hard to believe, but there it is:

The passions that have been unleashed in Iraq are not going to accommodate some partial withdrawal plan, where we just draw down troops, do less patrolling, more training and fight Al Qaeda types. It’s a fantasy.

The minute we start to withdraw, all hell will break loose in the areas we leave, and there will be a no-holds-barred contest for power among Iraqi factions. Our staying there with, say, half as many troops, will not be sustainable.



Wait ... no, actually, I don't quite agree with him. (Phew.) I think he's right that having, say, a 75,000-man army sitting in Iraq baby-sitting a bloody civil war for years to come is a bad idea; I'm less convinced that it's an unsustainable idea. In fact, my worry is that it's extremely sustainable - that we'll have some kind of compromise over the next year or so that drops U.S. troop levels downward (letting the Democrats claim victory) but that keeps a substantial force in Iraq (letting Bush claim victory) deep into the next Administration and beyond, and that both sides will go along with it even though, as Stephen Biddle writes, it will mean "continued U.S. casualties with little positive effect on Iraq's ongoing civil war." Never underestimate the ability of the American establishment to sustain what seems like an unsustainable policy, if doing so prevents them from making hard political choices. (See Vietnam, South, 1969-75.)

I don't know what to do about Iraq (obviously). But it seems to me that you can either look at the ongoing, low-grade civil war as something we have a moral and strategic obligation to prevent from spiraling out of control, in which case we need to follow Petraeus's lead and be prepared to continue the surge for months and years to come, regardless of the absence of a political settlement (and with the long-term hope that the violence will gradually diminish, and that Iraq circa 2015 will look like, say, Bosnia today); or you can argue that the cost of occupation to American national security outweighs our moral and strategic interests in preventing a greater bloodbath than we have now, in which case we ought to focus on getting out completely. (Or pulling back to Kurdistan, though I'm more skeptical than Andrew is about that option; his suggestion that "the Turks and the Kurds can become an arc of hope" for the region sounds an awful lot like like the frequent pre-Iraq War suggestion that "Iraq's Sunni and Shi'a can become an arc of hope" for a divided Middle East.) In other words, I swing back and forth between supporting Bill Kristol and supporting a hasty-as-possible withdrawal. But I suspect we'll get the worst of both worlds instead: A continued U.S. presence and continued U.S. casualties, and a steadily-worsening civil war that we're helpless to prevent.