Bad Ideas Don't Die
There is a particularly Bad Idea that has been circulating, fed by its specious appeal to a sense of order. The idea is that we should make a schedule for withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Whether or not we were right to go to war in Iraq is a subject for debate, but it is indisputable that we are there. I happen to believe that spreading democracy, toppling evil dictators, and fighting terrorists on their turf instead of ours is a Good Idea. But I understand: some disagree, and want us out of Iraq, and they have a plan to do it (which plan also requires winning the majority of one house of Congress).
Withdrawing on a schedule, timetable, or other term for a set of deadlines we make for ourselves has a certain appeal. The appeal is that we are not fleeing the field of battle; no, we are leaving of our own accord, trumpeting discretion as the better part of valor.
For what other reason than the appearance of intention could there be? If our presence is neither required by our interests nor desired by our allies, then why tarry even an hour? It must be that there is something accomplished in staying that would not be accomplished by leaving.
Since we are told that the mission is hopeless and there should be no further effort wasted on it, the delay in leaving cannot be to press our interest on the ground. No, the delay in leaving is for the mere appearance of order. It is a sham put forth to assuage the collective guilty conscience of those proposing it. "We are not fleeing", they intone into the camera, "we are redeploying. See, we have a schedule!".
But sham or not, why oppose such a withdrawal? My opposition to a scheduled withdrawal does not depend on the value of the mission in Iraq. I find sufficient opposition to a scheduled withdrawal entirely on strategical or tactical grounds, depending on scale.
If we examine the state of the mission in Iraq, then we could term a phased, scheduled withdrawal a kind of strategy. The tactics that implement that strategy would be necessarily revealed to our friends and enemies alike, even if the pretense of secrecy were to be made. The instant troops began leaving in substantial numbers, the worst kept secret in the world would be the forecast day that the last American would go. Thinking of it, I find it difficult even to suggest that such a secret could be held. No, the schedule would be common knowledge among our foes.
So obviously they would be given time to plan. They need take no action, give no cause for alarm. Everything would seem fine. To the departing American troops and the Iraqis left to defend themselves again terrorists funded by Iran and Syria, the defenses they planned and constructed would seem to be proper.
But within a short time after the last American left, those defenses would come under concerted attack. All of the sweat, money, blood, and American lives spent propounding a Good Idea would be destroyed following a Bad one.
In short, in terms of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a scheduled withdrawal is not even the right way to lose. If nothing else, it is bad tactics to disclose troop movements.
But worse than bad tactics is bad stategy, and a scheduled withdrawal is both strategically and tactically awful in the War on Terror. Or perhaps it's just tactically awful, since to have a strategy one must be in the process of planning.
As clear as the lesson of Somalia was to Usama Bin Laden(♣), this lesson will be inescapable to our enemies: we have no conviction. We may say we want freedom and democracy to spread, but we don't really believe it. We may say we will treat terrorists and those who sponsor them alike, but only until the media turns against it.
And that strategy will be just as revealing to our friends: trust not in America, for she will turn away from you when need her the most.
Iraq is not the last battle in the War on Terror. It may be that our grandchildren do not see this war finished. The question is: do we have the wisdom to achieve victory, or merely the discretion with which to console ourselves in our defeat?
(♣) No, Mr. Clinton, nobody's saying UBL was there, just that he claims to have learned America's character by watching you lose a war.