POSTWAR IRAQ….Max Sawicky has taken a pledge to “avoid trivia, partisan invective, and inter-blog backbiting.” What’s more, he says, “I really mean it.”

Sure, Max. My guess is that he cracks before the month is up. The rest of you can record your guesses in comments.

All of which is neither here nor there, really, except to say that while the New Max? may be serious, nonpartisan, and sober, he’s also now a bit more circuitous than us loyal readers are used to. I was puzzled about what prompted this post, for example ? a lesson in always following links, I suppose, or else a lesson in not writing posts that depend on following links in order to make sense ? until I read Fred Hiatt’s column in the Washington Post this afternoon. He’s talking about Howard Dean’s views on the Iraqi occupation:

“Now that we’re there, we’re stuck,” he said. Bush took an “enormous risk” that through war the United States could replace Saddam Hussein and the “small danger” he presented to the United States with something better and safer. The gamble was “foolish” and “wrong.” But whoever will be elected in 2004 has to live with it. “We have no choice. It’s a matter of national security. If we leave and we don’t get a democracy in Iraq, the result is very significant danger to the United States.”

Max suggests that this makes no sense. If it wasn’t worth it to go to war in the first place, why is it worth it to continue the occupation? You’re either opposed to the whole neocon nation-building agenda or you’re not.

This is something worth writing more about, but for now I just want to point out that Dean’s position is hardly unreasonable. You might, for example, think that shoring up the foundation of a house is not worth the cost or the risk, but once the shoring is in place and the house is resting on it, you’d better not take it out. The risk of withdrawl is dramatically higher than the risk of leaving things alone in the first place.

In the same way, opposing the original invasion of Iraq probably posed only minor dangers. Our freedom of action would have remained, and we could have removed Saddam from power later if he ever became a serious threat. However, now that we’ve removed the Iraqi government and committed the U.S. to rebuilding the country, the danger of pulling out is arguably quite a bit greater. For starters, it would leave a vacuum that might very well be filled by a regime even more dangerous than Saddam Hussein’s.

There are some good and serious arguments to be made on both sides of this question. But to suggest that the rationale for a candidacy like Dean’s “nearly crumbles” unless he agrees to bug out of Iraq is sophistry. Fair or not, he has to play the hand he’s dealt, and the reason to vote for him ? as with any candidate ? is if you think his overall judgment going forward will be better than Bush’s.

Of course, that’s a bit of a low bar, isn’t it?

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