Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Debating Withdrawal

When Harwood took issue with my suggestion that the U.S. make plans for withdrawing troops, he asked me if I was offering a political strategy for getting the Dems back on track or taking the position on principle. I answered that my stance contained elements of politics and principle but was fundamentally pragmatic. Depending on how long we decide to continue this exchange, I’ll delve deeper into moral arguments on war and withdrawal. But let’s start with the basics.

In order to make clear headed policy decisions about Iraq, we need goals, one of which certainly needs to be our eventual withdrawal from the region. But without some kind of timetable for withdrawal, that goal is rendered almost meaningless. As Kevin Drum asked in a post Harwood referenced yesterday, “once you've set out comprehensive goals, can you really avoid providing estimates for how long you think it's likely to take to meet them?” At the risk of robbing Drum’s question of its rhetorical force, let me answer, no.

Proactive Iraq policy demands that the U.S. set concrete goals for success. Saying, we’ll leave when the job is finished reduces the U.S presence in Iraq to a rudderless ship, beaten about in the seas of insurgent violence. We may be moving in one direction, but the coordinated attacks of a few suicide bombers are enough to reroute our policy, enough to change our vague plans for an exit strategy.

By setting a date for withdrawal, the U.S. will have to make policy decisions with that date in mind, and the Iraqis will have to do the same. The specific withdrawal date is not as important as the act of setting one. Regardless of the exact timetable for withdrawal, we will continue fighting an uphill battle in Iraq, but setting a date for withdrawal, even a flexible date, would focus U.S. policy in the region on a clear objective, something we’ve lacked since we ousted Saddam’s government.

The manager of a factory could never tell his customers, "I don’t know how many pieces I’ll make, and I don’t know when I’ll finish, but be patient with me." Granted, waging a war and then coordinating a rebuilding effort is more complex than cranking out widgets, but the same principles apply. Not having a plan for success based on finite goals and timelines is bad management plain and simple.

Moreover, as a representative body, the government owes Americans an exit strategy. By continuing on with the vague policy that we’ll leave when the job is finished, the Bush Administration conveniently side steps accountability for the growing quagmire in Iraq. The American people can’t say the Administration isn’t keeping its promises, since it never really made any in the first place. Scary as it sounds, Bush is fighting this war on the honor system as far as his dwindling base of American support is concerned. We can’t hold him to a plan that doesn’t exist. In this sense, the lack of an exit strategy does more than jeopardize our Iraq policy, it undermines one of the principles of our democratic system, namely, that a government should be accountable to its people.

I haven’t addressed the issue that U.S. troops, for all the security they bring to Iraq, are, by their mere presence, continuing to exacerbate tensions in the region. But I’ll leave that for a later post. In the meantime, I’ll let Harwood get a response in.

--Matthew McCoy