Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why We Can't Leave

David Brooks writes in today's NY Times about the political progress we are seeing in Iraq. He argues just because we're not seeing western-style top down constitutional reconstruction, doesn't mean its not happening on a country-wide basis.

He may be right, but at the same time Sunni Awakening forces and Shia militias have as much incentive to reignite their fighting as they do to make peace. At this point, I hope we have learned is that making predictions about how Iraqis will act is fruitless. I happen to disagree with Brooks, I think that societies take a long time to build, and we will see further upticks in violence before we see them slide down.

However, that doesn't change my agreement with his prescription for US activity. The democrats' stand for a time table for withdrawal is simply not tenable. We cannot force artificial dates for when we will leave. Managing an organic situation with a rigid time line might make for a good campaign promise, but in practice will lead to disaster. Rather, we need to set up operational goals that are achievable and then let the Iraqis to their own devices.

The operational goals are objective. Things like 80% effective running electricity nationwide. Iraqi-controlled secure passage along critical roadways. Iraqi controlled security of the green zone. In other words, purely operational goals that are non-partisan and non-political. Then we must step away. If we continue to leave our benchmarks up to the Iraqi government compromising on issues, we will never leave. However if we pull the plug the nation will fall into chaos. I think the American people are smart enough to recognize that we broke it, so now we have to leave it in a position to operate itself.

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