Kahl on Reconciliation


Colin Kahl is a guy I'm pretty sure I'd never heard of until a week or so ago, but he's a real expert on Iraq and stability operations who seems to have emerged as a fairly influential backer in Democratic circles of commitments to a continued training mission in Iraq and other policies I tend to disagree with. Interestingly, the people I do tend to agree with all respect him a great deal (though they still don't agree) so Marc Lynch is hosting a guest post from Prof. Kahl laying out his views and I think there'll be responses later today from Lynch and others.

For now, I think Eric Martin makes some good points in response to Kahl.

I would also put giant red flags all around any policies whose own advocates say things like "This could work in theory -- although the probabilities are difficult to assess and are probably not particularly high." That suggests to me that we're not actually disagreeing about the merits of the sort of scheme Kahl's putting forward. I think his plan won't work and he thinks his plan won't work. He counters that not trying is even less likely to work. That's true, but of course there are costs (and opportunity costs) to staying and trying. As I said yesterday, the question of regional strategy is incredibly important here. The implicit calculus behind Kahl's thinking is that though his plan probably won't work, if it did work the gains would be very large and the costs of attempting it are very small.

I don't really see things that way. In order to outline goals that we probably can't achieve but could achieve "in theory," the bar has been set sufficiently low that the benefits of success aren't especially high. Meanwhile, the costs of continued involvement in Iraq seem quite high. This is starting to get some traction in the campaign as John Edwards lays out a strategy I agree with and points to the fact that Clinton's policies will keep us stuck in an occupation dymaic. The Obama campaign hasn't been clear on several of the points of contention which frustrates Chris Bowers (and me) but it's worth saying that my reporting indicates this is likely more the result of genuine indecision than calculated ambiguity -- Obama is hearing arguments from both sides and isn't sure who he agrees with.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Julian Billma