Withdrawal Pains

WITHDRAWAL PAINS….In a crie de coeur over at The New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan harshly rebukes advocates of withdrawal from Iraq:

The truth is that, as the war takes a sectarian turn, the Americans have become more buffer and lifeline than belligerent. Earlier this year at his home near the Syrian border, Abdullah Al Yawar, a Sunni sheik in Nineveh province, warned me that “if the Americans leave, there will be rivers of blood.” Hundreds of miles to the east in Baghdad, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shia, echoed the fear of his Sunni counterpart: Without the Americans, he said, Baghdad will become another Beirut.

….Withdrawal advocates who wear the position on their sleeves as if it were a badge of heightened moral awareness seem to forget that, as theologian Kenneth Himes wrote in Foreign Policy, “The moral imperative during the occupation is Iraqi well-being, not American interests.” Having invoked just-war tradition to oppose the war’s cause, they completely disregard its relevance to the war’s conduct ? namely, the obligation to repair what the United States has smashed.

Kaplan, of course, is someone who eagerly supported the war in the first place and bears considerable responsibility for our current position there. And yet, justified or not, I sympathize with his obvious bitterness. There is, at this point, not much question that an American withdrawal from Iraq would lead to massive bloodshed, a Shiite theocracy, and considerably enhanced influence for Iran in the Middle East. It would be a debacle almost without parallel.

And yet, like most other critics, Kaplan offers no better answer. In fact, he gives the game away with a comparison to Vietnam (something that’s apparently OK for conservatives):

Then, as now, responsibility for the war’s outcome lay squarely with its architects. But the war’s aftermath also bloodied the hands of critics who insisted on walking away without condition and regardless of consequence. The genocide that followed in Cambodia and the spectacle of Vietnam’s reeducation camps will not be repeated in Iraq. But ask any American officer there and he will tell you that, absent U.S. forces, Iraq’s ditches will fill rapidly as the death toll multiplies tenfold.

But this is exactly the problem, isn’t it? We stayed in force in Vietnam for nearly a decade, and we still couldn’t accomplish our goals. Should we have stayed another decade?

Anyone who advocates withdrawal needs to understand just what the consequences would be. But, as Kaplan admits, responsibility nonetheless lies squarely with the war’s architects. In Iraq, if anything, we are having even less success than we did in Vietnam, and there’s hardly even a colorable argument left that we have any hope of turning this around. Withdrawing may be an appalling and grisly option, but would it be better to kill a few hundred thousand more people and then leave? Those like Kaplan who oppose withdrawal have a question of their own to face up to.