IRAQ AND THE LIBERAL HAWKS….I don’t want to turn this thread into a Marshall Wittman bashing session, but one of the reasons I started supporting the idea of a scheduled withdrawal from Iraq a couple of months ago was because of posts like this:

The Bushies have clearly bungled the occupation of Iraq….never had a coherent or an effective strategy….disastrous post-war period….The public is rightly fed-up with the status quo.

And yet:

President Bush….owes the American people an explanation….he should provide us with a new victory strategy there….There are no easy solutions in Iraq….Democrats should relentlessly criticize the Administration for the mishandling of the war. But don’t play into the hands of…Zarqawi….

Basically, Wittman is saying that Iraq is FUBAR and Democrats should complain loudly about it, but we should stay there anyway. Similarly, Ed Kilgore suggests that there are plenty of alternatives between a fixed timetable for withdrawal and Bush’s stay-the-course-til-doomsday path ? but doesn’t say what they are. Greg Djerejian says the “status quo is becoming increasingly untenable” and admits that no one is convincingly explaining how we can beat the insurgents ? but nonetheless hammers against the idea of any kind of near-term withdrawal.

If these folks were wingnuts, I’d just ignore them. But they aren’t. They’re people I respect. Yet they, and many people like them, keep telling us that we need to stay in Iraq even though they seemingly agree that no one has a credible plan for accomplishing our goals there. This doesn’t make any sense. Either you believe that there’s a way we can win in Iraq ? a real way that involves the leadership of George Bush and his staff, not some fantasy scenario in which he suddenly turns into the reincarnation of FDR ? or you don’t. And the only reason to stay in Iraq is if you think we can win.

So: if you do believe we can win in Iraq, let’s hear what you mean by “win” and how you think we can do it, and let’s hear it in clear and compelling declarative sentences. “Stay the course” isn’t enough. What Bush is doing now obviously isn’t working, so what would you do that’s significantly different?

Conversely, if you don’t believe we can win in Iraq, and you’re only suggesting we stay there because you can’t stand the thought of “looking weak,” then your moral compass needs some serious adjustment.

My mind is not irreversibly made up on this. But no one, neither Democrat nor Republican, has presented a convincing plan for winning in Iraq under the present circumstances. The insurgency is not going to give up, the Army doesn’t seem to have any kind of consistent commitment to using counterinsurgency techniques against it, we don’t know for sure that they’d work anyway, and let’s face it: the track record of major powers beating large-scale overseas insurgencies is close to zero in the past half century. So what’s the plan?

I happen to think a timed withdrawal is probably the best bet left to us, although I admit that I suspect Iraq is going to end up in chaos no matter what we do. That would be a disaster, but if we can’t stop it anyway there’s no point in making things worse by staying. For now, that’s pretty much where I’m at, and anyone who disagrees really needs to give the chin scratching a rest and tell us clearly and concisely what they’d do differently to turn the tide in this war. Time has run out.

UPDATE: Some responses are here.