HOW LONG IN IRAQ?….How long will we be in Iraq? Here’s an American view:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said today that “significant numbers” of U.S. troops would continue fighting in Iraq for at least another year.

“I think that certainly we’re going to be there through ’05 in significant numbers,” Powell told reporters. “I don’t know what those numbers will be.”

And here’s a British view:

Against a backdrop of continuing carnage, The Independent has learned a cross-party group of MPs has returned from Iraq convinced British troops may have to be deployed there for at least another 10 years.

….One senior member of the committee said: “It will take 10 to 15 years at least [before troops can be fully withdrawn]. It is another Cyprus. The Iraqis just cannot cope with the security situation and won’t be able to for years.”

Powell is obviously lowballing: 10 to 15 years sounds about right to me. After all, NATO continues to keep 20,000 peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, nearly half the number we started with five years ago. What’s more, even that reduced number amounts to about one soldier per 100 people, a higher troop concentration than we’ve ever had in Iraq.

So: 150,000 troops in Iraq for 10-15 years? With losses of 1,000 soldiers a year because that’s not enough boots on the ground to do the job? This is the calculus that persuades me we need to figure out a way to pull out of Iraq ? although I agree with conservatives that doing so would do considerable damage to U.S. prestige.

Even war enthusiasts ought to agree that you either fight a war to win or you don’t fight at all, and the Bush administration has made it clear they’re not willing to take the political risk needed to increase troop strength enough to put down the insurgency and stabilize Iraq, a step that everyone agrees is a precondition for democracy. Don Rumsfeld won’t do it because he wants to prove he was right all along about using a small, light force, and George Bush won’t do it because George Bush never changes his mind ? ever.

“Staying the course” is the worst possible strategy we can follow in Iraq. We either need to commit enough troops to get the job done or we need to pull out. Since the Bush administration isn’t willing to do the former, the only option left is the latter. We should no longer be asking American soldiers to pay the price for Don Rumsfeld’s vanity and George Bush’s stubbornness

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