Wanted: A Political Strategy


Max Boot has a long piece in the next Commentary that's essentially a critique of every available plan for rapid or semi-rapid withdrawal from Iraq, followed by a brief defense of the surge. He concludes:

Notwithstanding some positive preliminary results, the surge might still fail in the long run if Iraqis prove incapable of reaching political compromises even in a more secure environment. But, for all its faults and weaknesses, the surge is the least bad option we have. Its opponents, by contrast, have been loudly trying to beat something with nothing. If they do not like President Bush’s chosen strategy, the onus is on them to propose a credible alternative that could avert what would in all probability be the most serious military defeat in our history. So far, they have come up empty.

This is not satisfactory. Those of us on the fence about the surge are well aware of the potential consequences of withdrawal, but we are also aware that at some point, unwinnable wars must be given up as lost. As bad as admitting defeat would be, it's preferable to asking thousands more Americans to die for what ends up being judged a mistake. Avoiding that outcome, as Boot and the rest of the surge's proponents acknowledge, requires a political solution that seems, for now at least, to be beyond the grasp of the Iraqi government. So if we are to continue on our current path, we need to have less talk about the dangers of the alternative military approaches, and more talk about our options on the political front. Merely saying that "it's up to the Iraqis" and referencing the ghost of Ngo Dinh Diem as a warning against too-overt American meddling is unsufficient. If we're risking further American casualties on a high-risk military strategy in the hopes of averting defeat, we need to be prepared to consider high-risk political options as well. I don't know what these options might be - moving up the elections? a soft partition? - but if they don't exist, or if Boot and other surge proponents are too cautious to argue in their favor, then the surge's opponents will win the debate by default, and deservedly so.

Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense.