WINNING THE REAL WAR….Andrew Sullivan writes:

Readers know that I don’t support any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. This puts me in the excruciating position of supporting a war conducted by an administration whose key players are manifestly incompetent and reckless.

….Unable to access intelligence, forced to rely on news reports, blogs and other sources for information, I don’t have an alternative master-plan to win either. I would support an increase in troop levels, a clear-and-hold strategy, a more aggressive military commitment to protect the infrastructure, and the kind of outreach to alienated Sunnis that Maliki and Khalilzad are attempting. But as long as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are running the show, I cannot say I am optimistic that such a sane strategy will be employed or that it will succeed. It’s like asking Ken Lay to turn Enron back into an ethical, profit-making company. But what else can I do? I agree with John McCain that peremptory withdrawal or a fixed date would amount to surrender to an enemy that seems to be gaining momentum and strength.

Scratch a Republican and I’ll bet a lot of them feel the same way under the surface. They know in their hearts that this administration can’t win the war in Iraq, but they can’t stand the thought of withdrawing because it seems too much like surrender. So they’re stuck supporting a war they know is a losing effort.

“Excruciating” is one word for this, though I might suggest a few others. Instead, I want to ask a question: Why are people like Andrew Sullivan so convinced that a carefully planned phased withdrawal would be such a disaster?

Because it would set off a civil war? Iraq is already in the middle of a civil war, and a public plan for withdrawal might actually make an expansion of the current civil war less likely. In the best case, the Sunni insurgency might become less violent once they know we’re genuinely planning to leave. In the worst case, the Shiites will beat them once and for all after we’re gone.

Because it would give al-Qaeda a safe haven? But why? A Shiite nation with close ties to Iran would be no friend of al-Qaeda. And freeing up troops in Iraq would allow us to beef up our presence in Afghanistan, where a resurgence of the Taliban is a genuine threat.

Because it would destroy our standing in the world? This is a fatuous argument. Staying in Iraq is doing far more damage to our standing in the world than a careful withdrawal ever would. Withdrawing from Vietnam didn’t destroy America’s standing in the world, withdrawing from Algeria didn’t destroy France’s standing in the world, and withdrawing from Lebanon didn’t destroy Israel’s standing in the world. It was staying too long that did the damage.

If the only way to win a war against Islamic jihadism is by invading and occuping Muslim countries, we’re going to lose. Luckily, it’s not the way to win. It’s time to acknowledge this reality and demand that the Bush administration stop posturing and instead pursue a genuine, long-term winning strategy for the broader war we’re fighting. An open-ended commitment to occupying Iraq isn’t part of that.

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