What To Do In Iraq, Round 2

WHAT TO DO IN IRAQ, ROUND 2….In Round 1 of our recent mini-debate in Foreign Affairs about Iraq, I argued that since nobody had come up with any credible plan for military success in Iraq, it made no sense to keep up a military presence forever. What’s the point of doing something that nobody really seems to believe will work, after all?

So how did my fellow roundtablers feel about this? Round 2 is now up, and Marc Lynch reluctantly agrees: “Washington’s credibility is so low, its presence so inflammatory, that virtually any initiative under an American brand name will generate resistance. For these reasons, therefore, I have regretfully come to the conclusion that ? although much would depend on the terms, context, and execution of it ? a gradual U.S. withdrawal seems like the least bad option still available.”

Fred Kaplan halfway agrees: “I see no problem with substantial withdrawals ? of, say, at least half the U.S. forces by early ’07 ? or with setting benchmarks for reducing even more….A viable Iraqi government [will need our help] for training, logistics, air support, intelligence, and border protection….A core deployment of roughly 30,000 U.S. personnel is required for these missions, even if all the other troops come home.”

(I don’t disagree with this, by the way. A large-scale U.S. presence is unsustainable and counterproductive for a variety of reasons, but a smaller presence, assuming the Iraqi government genuinely wants it, might very well be beneficial for everyone involved.)

Christopher Hitchens, unsurprisingly, disagrees entirely: “The United States can contemplate leaving Iraqis to settle their sharp internal differences by themselves, but it cannot abandon them to a victory for clerical and political fascism….If our calculations become unduly inflected by considerations of American domestic opinion, then both Iraqis and foreign intruders (and their state backers in Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia) have only to set their watches and begin making their respectively pessimistic and gloating dispositions.”

And me? Instead of talking about withdrawal again, I decided to hopscotch over to one of my other hobbyhorses, namely the fact that it’s nuts for us to refuse even to talk with Iran. As the events of the past couple of weeks have made even clearer than before, Iran is central to any kind of long-term stability in both Iraq and the broader Middle East, and like it or not, we need to deal with them. The longer we wait, the harder it will be.