DOUBLE DOWN IN IRAQ?….OR FOLD?….What should we do about Iraq? I have some depressing thoughts.

“Double the American boots on the ground,” advises Tom Friedman, apparently oblivious to the fact that there are no more boots to be had. Does he think they will appear if we just clap our hands? Max Boot, who is slightly less feverish, concedes our lack of manpower but then suggests that the answer is to recruit foreigners into an American version of the French Foreign Legion.

These arguments are absurd. There are no more troops. Period. What’s more, there’s no way we can get more in either the near or medium term. We could start up a draft tomorrow and it would still be a year before we had any additional combat brigades available. If you discount the draft and consider only realistic scenarios, it would take us at least two years to bring a significant number of new troops online. Suggesting otherwise is just wishful thinking.

The problem with this, as Niall Ferguson and others persuasively argue, is that our current troop strength isn’t nearly enough to defeat an apparently well armed and highly motivated insurgency. Without more troops we’re doomed to failure.

If this is true ? and it seems to be ? the logic of the situation is inescapable: since we’re in an unwinnable situation with the troops we have, and raising more troops is impossible, we’re asking soldiers to die for nothing. The obvious answer is to pull out of Iraq, and there’s a growing push among Democrats, 41 of whom have just created the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, to do just that.

But here’s the depressing thought: what happens if Democrats press for withdrawal and get their way? What then?

Liberals are fond of Vietnam analogies, so I’ve got one handy here: it will play out just like the aftermath of that war did. Something like this:

  1. Democrats demand an end to the war. Increasingly, polls appear to back them up.

  2. Under pressure, a Republican president finally does just that. After some suitably face saving nation building and treaty signing, troops are withdrawn.

  3. As virtually all observers fear, Iraq then falls into bloody civil war. Hundreds of thousands die. Neighboring countries are pulled in. Eventually, a new dictator, perhaps a Shiite ayatollah, takes control and forms a passionately anti-American government.

  4. Once again, America will appear to have been humiliated by a ragtag army. And despite the fact that polls seemed to demonstrate support for withdrawal, the aftermath will sit poorly with the American public. What’s more, they’ll know who to blame: Democrats.

Liberals today tend to view Vietnam as a vindication: We were right! It was a horrible war! But history suggests the American public never really agreed with that, regardless of what they told pollsters after the fact. After all, George McGovern ran on a platform of withdrawal in 1972 and suffered one of the worst defeats in American history. In all, following the period in the mid-60s during which Vietnam went sour, Republicans won five out of six elections. Only Watergate allowed Jimmy Carter to eke out a victory in the middle of that run.

Much of this was due to domestic backlash against the excesses of 60s counterculturalism, of course, but I think the war played a part too. What’s more, to the extent that it did, the electoral backlash happened not because Americans blamed Democrats for getting into the war, but because they blamed Democrats for not winning the war. Initially, Democrats were blamed when Vietnam turned into a quagmire, and later they were blamed for the communist dictatorship that followed our withdrawal, a ghost that Ronald Reagan rode to power in 1980.

This is what I’m afraid could happen again. Democrats will push for withdrawal, eventually they’ll get their way, and the country will blame them for the resulting chaos and defeat. Dems will argue that it would have happened anyway, but the public won’t buy it. The Republican party, which should get the blame, will get off scot free.

These are gloomy thoughts, and not especially admirable ones, but they’re the thoughts I have. I wish I had different ones.

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