Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Benchmarks for Withdrawal

Responding to an article by Henry Kissinger, Kevin Drum makes the case for setting benchmarks for withdrawing from Iraq.
Henry Kissinger . . . suggests that the key issue is "whether, in the end, withdrawal will be perceived as a forced retreat or as an aspect of a prudent and carefully planned move on behalf of international security."

Oddly enough, that's one of the very reasons I'm in favor of setting benchmarks: it provides a perception that we're leaving on our own terms, not getting chased out. Given the current stalemate in Iraq, and the slim prospects for breaking this stalemate in the future, it seems like it's only a matter of time before something happens that forces an American withdrawal à la Beirut or Somalia, and that would be far more dangerous to American credibility than a planned withdrawal following successful elections.
I’m with Drum on this one. I don’t support plans for immediate withdrawal. I don’t think public opinion should trump political/military strategy. But what I’ve been saying from the beginning is that the “when they’re ready” strategy with no timetables, no benchmarks, and no set measures for success doesn’t look like much of a strategy at all. If we accept that one of the most important outcomes of the Iraq War will be U.S. public image, then “leaving on our own terms,” i.e. as dictated by the benchmarks we set, is paramount to our success. If, as Drum grimly predicts, something “forces” American withdrawal, we risk losing a large share of international credibility along with stability in Iraq. Hopefully we’ll never have to face this dire contingency, but we should guard against it nevertheless.

To be fair, Kissinger and the Bush Administration would take umbrage with Drum’s point that there are “slim prospects for breaking this stalemate” in Iraq. Indeed, this is the question on which the entire withdrawal debate rests. It seems that on the topic of Iraq, the distinction between Democrats and Republicans has become less important than the distinction between optimists and pessimists.