IRAQ AND THE INSURGENCY….A couple of days ago I proposed that we should publicly announce a firm plan for withdrawal from Iraq. One reason for this, I suggested, was that the open-ended presence of American troops was helping to fuel the very insurgency that we’re trying to fight. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking this:

General Peter Cosgrove, former head of the Australian Defence Force: “I think we’ve got to train the Iraqis as quickly as we can and to a point where we take one of the focal points of terrorist motivation away ? and that is foreign troops. When there is an adequate Iraqi security force, foreign troops leave. If we could get that done by the end of 2006 that would be really good.”

Nora Bensahel, counterinsurgency expert at RAND Corp.: “History suggests that outside powers have a very poor record in counterinsurgency operations because the presence of outside forces often adds fuel to the fire of the insurgents’ cause. Only local residents possess the knowledge and determination needed to prevail.”

Porter Goss, CIA Director: “Islamic extremists are exploiting the Iraqi conflict to recruit new anti-U.S. jihadists.

Thamir Al Adhami, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “I tend to believe that [you need] to give [the insurgents] at least a light at the end of the tunnel. If you say, ‘We are staying as long as it takes,’ well, God knows how long it will take. That means, ‘We are staying here permanently.’”

Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: “The operation in Iraq has stimulated suicide terrorism and has given suicide terrorism a new lease on life….Before our invasion, Iraq never had a suicide-terrorist attack in its history. Never….Every year that the United States has stationed 150,000 combat troops in Iraq, suicide terrorism has doubled.”

None of these people is suggesting that we should withdraw immediately. Neither am I. But if we announce a plan for withdrawal based partly on hard objectives ? not vague “when the job is done” pronouncements ? and partly on a hard end date of, say, 2007, that would mean that we had spent nearly five years occupying Iraq and three years training Iraqi security forces. Quite aside from operational issues that will require us to start drawing down our troops before then anyway, let’s face it: if we haven’t achieved success in five years, we’re never going to achieve it.

That being the case, why not give ourselves a leg up by announcing our plans now? Not only would it put us in control of our own destiny, but there’s a good chance that it would also splinter apart a substantial fraction of the insurgents and their supporters, some of whom are motivated by a belief that we plan to be a permanent occupying force. A firm, credible plan for withdrawal would at least partially pull the fangs of the insurgency and probably increase our chance of eventual success in Iraq. Why not take it?