Iraq

Patience is Not a Policy

The folly of the Iraq-forever caucus

|

When he was the Democratic leader in the Senate, George Mitchell ruefully reflected that his job had given him "the best-developed patience muscle in Washington." The war in Iraq has done similar things for the rest of us. But the strengthening program is by no means done. Gen. David Petraeus was on Capitol Hill this week explaining why we need to keep on exercising forbearance, and keep on, and keep on.

By his reckoning, and that of Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, the administration's policy of escalation has been a success. Violence has come down, political reconciliation is underway, and the Iraqi government is showing more initiative. Heck, Crocker marveled, you even see the newly designed Iraqi flag in all parts of the country, not just some.

We poured in more troops, we accomplished what we set out to do, and now we can start bringing our troops home—which, after all, was the whole point of the surge announced by President Bush 15 months ago. Right? Wrong. It turns out that we have accomplished only enough to allow us to remain in Iraq indefinitely with more forces than we had when the surge began.

Where is Goldilocks when we need her? According to the administration, the circumstances for leaving are always too hot or too cold, but never just right. Petraeus thinks withdrawals should cease in July, at which time there will still be 140,000 American troops in Iraq—compared to about 132,000 when Bush embarked on this course.

The end of the drawdown is commonly referred to as a "pause" but it looks more like a full stop. Petraeus is not willing to commit to reduce troop strength even by September, more than a year and a half after the escalation began. "Withdrawing too many forces too quickly," he insists, "could jeopardize the progress of the past year." All he offers come September—grudgingly—is a promise to "commence a process of assessment" to see if he might be willing to trim the numbers just a bit.

What this illustrates is that no matter what happens in Iraq, the Bush policy is always the same: stay the course. Says Brookings Institution national security analyst Ivo Daalder, "First we couldn't withdraw because things were bad. Then we couldn't withdraw because things were getting better. Now we can't withdraw because things might get worse."

No one in the administration camp is willing to reject an open-ended commitment. Supporters of John McCain complain Democrats have distorted his declaration that he would be willing to stay in Iraq 100 years—since he said that "would be fine with me" only "as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed."

Fair enough. So how long would he be willing to stay as long as Americans are being injured, harmed, wounded and killed? Apparently he is not willing to put any expiration date on our obligation. Sound policy, he told a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience in Kansas City this week, "will require that we keep a sufficient level of American forces in Iraq until security conditions are such that our commanders on the ground recommend otherwise."

Well, suppose security conditions never reach the desired point—which, judging from the recent eruption of violence, is entirely possible. Then what? McCain offers no option except continuing the fight—no matter how long it takes, no matter how bloody it is, no matter the long-term damage to the Army, no matter how slow the political progress, no matter how much it costs.

His Democratic rivals propose to begin a deliberate, phased withdrawal in 2009. To let this war go on for six full years before we finally begin turning it over to the Iraqis suggests, if anything, an excess of patience. Yet McCain portrays such talk as "reckless and irresponsible."

If so, that's only because the surge has yet to produce the dramatic overall progress that its supporters envisioned at the start. Petraeus says we have to stay because the gains are "fragile and reversible." And he acknowledged, "We haven't turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel."

We may never. In that case, McCain and his allies are prepared to keep stumbling through the dark.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Advertisement

NEXT: Koffeeklatch

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Does that sentence not make any sense or have I just not had enough coffee?

  2. No coffee here either, but I agree the sentence doesn’t make sense. Aw, to hell with it. Enough surrender talk- we’re staying till we get the pony, and then we’ll stay some more. Fuh-ree-dumb

  3. Oh good . . . I thought I’d had a bad flashback while reading that. Thanks for the confirmation. It’s no worse than the stuff I get from some of our engineers for “dust edits”.

  4. That Petraeus is one clever guy. He has single handedly convinced George Bush, Dick Cheney and all the top Republicans and Democrats in congress to continue the war. I know that many of these public servants were starting to feel guilty about their sky rocketing defense stocks and embarassed to hand out lucrative government contracts to close friends and relatives. But Petraeus was very convincing and it appears he has tricked even the primary bond dealers into supporting continued expansion of government debt. All of these people would rather just have peace, but Petraeus is really one of the most honest, intelligent and cosmopolitan thinkers this nation has ever seen.

  5. Chapman spews forth more cut and run, whiney shit.

    Him the the rest of the surrender monkeys can kiss my ass.

  6. Steve Chapman,
    Don’t be so blue. I’m seeing a huge new market for my $1000 alcohol breathylyzer ignition lock devices, this enduring freedom in Iraq could really boost global trade. Your not against opening up free-markets are you?

    I have even been in talks with KKB and the state department. KKB has agreed to construct my new manufacturing facilities over there. They have agreed to work with Blackwater to help coordinate labor for my facility, the state department says that it will be a boon to the employment figures in Iraq…at the same time Iraqis can get used to the new system of rule of law that we will be putting into place.

    There are a lot of positive developments going on!

  7. That sentence makes more sense if you read it backwards.

  8. I forgot to tell you the best part about my project. It will be 100% free aid to Iraq. That’s right the US government(along with the Federal Reserve) has agreed to create the money to lend to the Iraqi people to build this new facility. The rule of law is growing so nicely over there that we can be sure the Iraqi people will start paying back the loan once they get a modern cosmopolitan tax system in place.

    It is hard to believe a few short years ago, Sadam was wasting most of his peoples money trying to pay off ALL debt instead of cleverly leveraging to invest in new projects like mine that would spur growth as high as 15% annually according to the World Bank.

  9. Petraeus says we have to stay because the gains are “fragile and reversible.”

    So the “counterinsurgency genius” now believes overwhelming force is the secret to a successful military occupation?

  10. Him the the rest of the surrender monkeys can kiss my ass.

    JohnD, being as you’re all ass, where would they start?

  11. Can him makes his subjects agreeing with his verbs?

  12. JohnD is one tough hombre.

    Just like all those other tough hombres: Kagan, Kristol, Feith, Cheney. Real men, all of ’em. (Well, OK they’re actually just a bunch of pussy poseurs.)

    I’m wondering what it feels like to be willing to let good young men die just to prove what tough hombre you are.

  13. Why stay “as long as necessary”?

    Because, uh, the US opened that can of worms? Get the worms back into the can or else look like you’ve given in and lost. And that the French were right.

    Right time to withdraw or draw down: When the Iraqi parliament says so. Really.

    Not when the Democrats here, like 40 years ago, are passing laws that soldiers should fight with one hand (or both) tied behind their backs, saying “defeat is inevitable.”

    Sadly, the greatest travesty is the forgotten axim of US history: When the USA goes to war, it has never been defeated. When the US military goes to war alone, that’s when bad things happen. The people here blaming the military ought to blame the other parts of the government for not carrying their end of the deal.

    Where is the outcry about the State Department not doing its part? About how civil servants there are whining that they “may” be ordered to go, even though that’s in their contract?

  14. Right time to withdraw or draw down: When the Iraqi parliament says so. Really.

    Yeah, let’s leave U.S. policy up to the Iraqi parliament. That kind of thinking would have us still in S. Vietnam.

  15. Right, jaydub. If only the State Dept hadn’t dragged its feet, Iraq would be a shining example of democracy to the Middle East right now.

  16. I realize many of you xenphobes don’t want to spread freedom. However, even the extremist here have to admit that it is fun to see honorable Petraeus totally own the racist holocaust denier paultards.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWr5Wl-mev0

  17. This is an honest question for all of the war supporters who assert that things are getting better in Iraq.

    How many US servicemen do you expect to die in the next year? You don’t even have to estimate the Iraqi dead, the coalition partners toll or even the U.S. crippled. Just give your best guesstimate of U.S. military deaths for the next 12 months.

  18. I encourage all my fellow cosmotarians here to join infraguard.

    http://www.infragard.net/

    The only way to keep this country free is to join together and help the government be aware of what our friends and family are doing. Some of your friends might not seem dangerous, but the FBI may be able to piece together info that you never thought of. It is also important to analyze your friends through an objective lense and the government is a little better at that most people.

  19. J sub D,
    We already got Sadam so we are way ahead. As long as we kill more Al Qaeda insurgents than they get of us then we are still winning.

    How many nuclear bombs in US cities are you willing to accept if we don’t get the Real ID put into place on the schedule?

    Michael Chertoff has made it clear that there is a real danger…if you black helicopter nuts don’t go along with real ID quickly then the blood of the next terror attack in this country is on your hands.

  20. J Sub D,

    Your question confuses me. If we don’t estimate the # of Iraq kids that we kill then how can we keep score?

  21. Cosmotarian Overlord,

    It was a simple question, requiring only a three to five digit response. You FAIL!

    Maybe some other war supportter would like to make an attempt.

  22. So much for “return on success.”

  23. J Sub D,
    Lets be realist, we all know that this planet cannot handle 6 billion people. It is way past the sustainable carrying capacity.

    So it is really quite ok if we lose a million or so soldiers next year. It is in their contract anyway, they knew they would be risking their lives. I didn’t hear any complaining when we were paying for their education and giving them a good job.

  24. No, no, don’t eat J sub D! He’s scrawny and small, and his bigger brother will be along any minute. Just let him pass over your bridge, C.O.

  25. get over it J sub D,

    I am an adviser to John McCain on foreign Policy and it is on record that this is what I think:

    “Military men are dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for foreign policy.”

    The theoretical debates where we pretend we care about soldiers are just sophisticated PR strategies.

    As my good friend Nikita Khrushchev said:

    “You Americans are so gullible. No, you won’t accept Communism outright, but we’ll keep feeding you small doses of Socialism until you’ll finally wake up and find you already have Communism. We won’t have to fight you. We’ll so weaken your economy until you’ll fall like overripe fruit into our hands.”

  26. It is the highest time for USSmen to withdraw at last, to stop to push his lackey Maliki to murdering of his countrymen. It will give really nothing, it will bring and fuel hatred only and it will lead a civil war there. Maybe Maliki forgot but he is a sohn of his nation just as AlSadr and he should be closer to his countrymen rather that to his masters of war crimes and genocide: Bush, Cheney and another invaders. If somebody has not feelings towards own nation but only love to american dollars it will give effects which are visible in this Iraq: hundreds of tousends of killed people, brother against brother, chaos, lawlessness, war crimes. He must change something in his person or to resign. It would be very sad if new proamerican regime would be worse that regime of Hussein. Of course the old worldly wisdom is confirmed: there where USA will meander, is always hatred, war, poverty and social unjustice. It is very bad ally for all countries. And if there are plans that Iraq destroyed by USA must rebuild country for Iraqi money from oil ( it is real outstanding bourishness from the side of USA )it is the last sign that it is real time to stop ally with USA and turn towards own citizens and another block of countries: Russia, China, Iran. It will bring peace at last there. It is time not to be coward one time in life and think logically. USA will bring nothing good for Iraq and for all this region. And all these Iraqi chieftains: Maliki and the rest must it understand at last. He must understand it and resist.

  27. You idiots seem to think you can get us to see how our policies unjustly kill soldiers and then we will change our ways.AHHAAAHA!! I alugh at your silliness.

    We have killed millions in funding the bolshevik revolution and the rise of Hitler. We could give two shits about 4,000 dead US soldiers. Your talking to a man that had no problem shipping the USSR machine gun parts that were shipped to the viet cong to kill american soldier throughout the entire Vietnam war. As long as we get the contracts flowing to the right companies and the total amount of government debt is increasing then times are good for JP Morgan Chase.

  28. “They’re real men all of them”
    Whatever. If I was in match with Kristol, I’d kick his ass. Cheney would have a heart attack (though if it was a shootout, he could get me by aiming at a bird). Don’t know enough about Kagan and Feith to say about them.

  29. Henry,
    You are undoubtably a genius and I admired your work on Cambodia. Would you mind stopping by next time your in Dupont Circle, maybe have dinner with Ron Bailey, Matt Welch and I at the Palm? We could bring Michael Young in on the teleconference. Anyway, we were thinking that these pesky isolationist just aren’t buying the “Global War On Terror” OR “War on CO2”. Matt Welch tried to sell the war on terror but it was too embarassing, ROn Bailey tried to start a libertarian movement of global warming nuts but everyone knows it is completely ridiculous and well Michael Young…he is not very popular amongst even the dopiest of Cosmotarian Reason subscribers. So can you give us something else to work on? I think we have to do something that will appeal to the real crackerty ass crackers out there…for instance maybe we can get David Rockefeller to sponsor a monster truck racing team, we’ll call it the cracker mobile and have big square tires that look like saltine crackers and we will slap a NRA sticker on the bumper and we’ll have someone who seems all american like Super Dave Osborne be the driver and just as he is about to win the world championchips we can have a terrible accident…but he will be saved because he had a microchip device in him that contained all his medical info etc….then if we play this up we might be able to convince america that they DO need to start microchipping everybody?!…anyway it is just an idea, but hopefully we can come up with something better than “CO2 is a killer gas” and please tell Ted Truner to shut his pie hole…he is making this really hard on us…maybe he is good at corralling the democrats, but come on, mini-me could do that easily enough.

  30. Tes,
    Maliki is closer to “his countrymen”? Please. That would require, first of all, that Iraq be a country rather than a bunch of people who hate each other and want to kill each other happening to live under the same government. And we really don’t have time for your international socialist crap. “Russia, China, Iran”, first of all, isn’t even a bloc. Second, in airing (legitimate) complaints against US policy you act as if its rivals and enemies are saints. They’re not, and as bad as US policies are, they’re a hell of a lot better than those of the countries you mention. It’s people like you that make intelligent opponents of the war in Iraq afraid to be openly opposed, because neocons can point to nuts like you and say “Oh yeah, he’s on their side! Do you really want to associate with them!”

  31. Bush was on the cheerleading squad with me in high school at Andover.

    http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/images/blbushcheerleader.htm

    but he had really defined gluts so I don’t think he was a wimp. When we first came to Dupont circle he had tons of chicks all over him so I bet he is more of a man than most of you.

  32. when we first came to Dupont circle he had tons of chicks all over him

    You’ve plainly never been to DuPont Circle.

  33. Joe you are clearly a homophobe…did you once ghost write for Ron Paul?

  34. I did not have relations with Jeff Gannon.

  35. Steve Chapman has convinced politicians to stay in Iraq into the indefinite future?

    That’s an impressive achievement, even eclipsing Radley’s work.

  36. No one in the administration camp is willing to reject an open-ended commitment.

    Yeah, that happens when you’re committed to victory.

    We could have packed up and left Seoul a few decades ago, or waved goodbye to Europe in the face of a few different threats. Too bad we had “open-ended commitments” and our troops ar still stuck there.

    Well, I guess it’s kind of nice for South Koreans and Europeans, but who cares about them?

  37. How many US servicemen do you expect to die in the next year?

    I assume you mean of hostile causes in Iraq, and in that case I would guess around 300.

    It’s worth pointing out Iraqi security forces are now taking about 3x as many casualties as U.S. forces. Maybe worth mentioning too that they appear to have inflicted about 5x as many casualties as they took in the fight over Basra and the other southern cities.

  38. Iraq ain’t a war. I simply don’t see how it qualifies as a war. The war was over five years ago. This is some kind of neo-colonialist boondoggle. Bush likes to call it a war so he can pretend he’s a “war president”.

  39. TallDave,
    There are 2 operative differences between the examples you mention and our engagement in Iraq: 1. Iraq is way more expensive, both in lives and money, than any of the bases we have in Europe or South Korea. 2. Our bases in Europe and S. Korea were set up to protect against communist expansion, while Iraq occupation serves no purpose except “nation-building”.
    By the way, responding to an earlier post, I don’t think its “bourish” (sic) to expect Iraq government to pay for rebuild with oil revenues. We’ve already pumped in enough treasury dollars to repair invasion damages several times over. However, the Sunni insurgents, Shi’ite radicals, and foreign terrorists who came to “fight the occupation” have succeeded admirably in breaking whatever is fixed. I still maintain, of course, that we could have avoided all this misery by leaving Saddam Hussein in power and letting that sumbitch deal with the other sumbitches.

  40. TallDave,
    Whoopee, Iraqis are killing each other effectively. What a relief. Does this mean the war is over and the troops can come home?

  41. dear peaceniks,
    Why don’t you stop and look at the numbers Talldave has given you?…the Iraqi freedom security forces have killed 5 times as many Iraqis as they have taken in losses…and even thouse smelly freedom forces have taken 3 times as many kills as the American forces…even more impressive, over half of those “american” forces are really just mexicans or blacks…the way I figure it…we are probably killing 30 Iraqis/mexicans or blacks of some sort for every one white American soldier and most of those whites are just dumb crackers from Alabama, Texas and Virginia! It isn’t like there are any fewer cuties in the Dupont circle clubs! Now I’d hope that as good internationalist in favor of creating a reasonable balance of power in the mideast you’d understand that this war is actually going very very well.

    On top of all this we have a stronger executive office than at anytime in history, Bush will go down as one of the best presidents ever!

  42. Someone said it before, but CO, you really are the worst poster ever. You’re not funny, your sarcasm is low-rent, trite and smacks of immaturity. You routinely have your “facts” wrong, as in pulled completely out of your ass. And stop overposting. If it were up to me, I’d ban you. And that’s not ’cause you’re right or wrong, you just suck.

    And you’re not an isolationist. You’re a non-interventionist. Read a fucking dictionary.

  43. You have no idea how much you motivate me

  44. P Brooks: So the “counterinsurgency genius” now believes overwhelming force is the secret to a successful military occupation?

    He believed, before the surge began, that we had far too few troops committed. His plan is much more complicated than “stay the course” or “more troops,” which is why he has succeeded where Casey failed.

  45. His plan is much more complicated than “stay the course” or “more troops,” which is why he has succeeded where Casey failed.

    Exactly, he’s moved them out of big bases and into hundreds of little Joint Security Stations where they can work hand-in-hand with ISF and build relationships with local citizens. That’s been far more important than the numbers game.

  46. 1. Iraq is way more expensive, both in lives and money, than any of the bases we have in Europe or South Korea

    We lost 36,500 troops defending S Korea. As for money, I don’t know the figure but I bet it was more expensive adjusted for inflation because defense spending is still pretty low today as a % of GDP.

    But it sure paid off for South Koreans:

    Today, the North Korean economy is virtually nonexistent while the South Korean economy is expanding. The CIA World Factbook estimates North Korea’s GDP (PPP) to be $40 billion, which is a mere 3.34% of South Korea’s $1.196 trillion GDP (PPP). The North’s per capita income is $1,800, which is 7.35% of South Korea’s $24,500 per capita income.

    2. Our bases in Europe and S. Korea were set up to protect against communist expansion, while Iraq occupation serves no purpose except “nation-building”.

    Well, not entirely. AQ is the most destructive threat we face now, as communism was then (not that they are in the same league). If we had left Iraq in 2004 we’d most likely be looking at an Al Qaeda controlled rump state in Sunni Iraq. Giving AQ free run of a country has not worked out well for America.

  47. People who want for the US to pull out of Iraq just as the war is turning against the terrorists lack imagination. They are so accustomed to the freedom and prosperity we enjoy in this country that take those things for granted. The enemy is aware of this mentality and believes, with some justification, that the American people lack the moral fiber to resist the Islamofascist program for world domination.

    How many attacks will like that of 9-11 will it take for the sleeping giant to re-awaken?

  48. What does Iraq have to do with the freedom and prosperity of the United States? The connections between Saddam and Al Qaeda haven’t held up to the scrutiny of review. There were no WMDs. Having a democratic ally in the Middle East with lots of oil would be superdy-duper, but that won’t happen unless Iraqis will it, regardless of the amount of blood and money we pour into the country. Iraq does little to prevent terrorists from striking at the US itself. Al Qaeda can wish destruction on the West all it wants, but bin Laden will colonize Mars before he topples Western civilization.

  49. At some point, the next President will simply decree that we have achieved enough of what we set out to do, and then he’ll order the troops home. We’ll leave, and they’ll sort it out, just like in Vietnam.

  50. “Al Qaeda can wish destruction on the West all it wants, but bin Laden will colonize Mars before he topples Western civilization.”

    With the western Europeans already cowering before Muslim intimidation part of western civilization is already close to going under. Even the Brits have lost their self-respect. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a cowardly fool who can’t apologize enough for the west’s sins and who thinks that British Muslims should be allowed to live under Sharia law. There are parts of London where non-Muslim women wear Muslim dress to avoid being harassed on the streets by Muslim hooligans. Most of the mosques in Great Britain are controlled by Wahabist radicals who preach violence and hatred of Jews and Christians.

    Who thought that a bunch of Russian radicals would conquer half the world and murder over 100 million people being murdered in various nasty ways? Who would have thought that a bunch of beer hall trash in Munich would start a movement that resulted in 50 million deaths and the ruin of a once great country?

    Your idea that Saddam wasn’t a threat makes no sense. He committed genocide against the Kurds. He started a war with Iran in which a million people were killed. He invaded Kuwait to grab its oil. When Bush Senior fought Saddam in 1991 every Arab country except Jordan and Libya was allied with the US, and that includes Syria! During the 1990’s Saddam repeatedly violated the terms of the cease-fire of 1991. The Security Council passed 16 binding resolutions against Saddam. Bill Clinton, not exactly what you’d call a neoconservative, fought a mini-war with Saddam in 1998. Seldom in history has an invasion been more justified than that of Iraq. The invasion wasn’t the start of a war – it was an incident in an war that was already ongoing.

    Whether Saddam was directly involved in 9-11 is beside the point. I doubt that he was. He wasn’t that stupid. The fact is that Saddam has extensive ties to various terrorist groups allied to Al Qaeda.

    The obsession of some Americans with defending Saddam Hussein makes no sense from a moral point of view and certainly not in terms of defending this country.

    The willing to believe the worst of US leaders and to apologize for genocidal tyrants is all too common among the American “educated” classes. I suppose it is the way they show their superiority to all those “dumb rednecks” out there in the heartland.

  51. Seriously, when are we going to stop apologizing for all of those other genocidal tyrants of the world? War on all genocidal tyrants now!

    Europe is not America. Europe is a socialist conglomerate of nation-states. America is not and while walking on eggshells, has not pandered to Muslim (especially radical, fundamentalist) ideas.

    You say Saddam was a threat, but who funded and provided him with weapons? Just because the extremely nationalistic country of Syria whose Baathist party splintered with Iraq’s.

    No one is defending Saddam Hussein in this thread so you’ve read incorrectly.

    And gee, that little quip about educated classes vs. dumb rednecks sure is relevant. At least an educated person could point to Darfur on a map, and not the one in Minnesota. Fuck the fucking rednecks and the liberal yuppies. Pretending there’s some kind of dichotomy there suggests their thought processes are somehow different.

  52. Suppose you are right that the US, along with the European and Arab countries supported Saddam at one time. If so it was a big mistake, morally and strategically. (I note that the wicked neocons were opposed at the time to playing footsie with Saddam.) All the more reason to invade Iraq and correct the mistake by making sure that Saddam Insane got the hanging he deserved. Duh! Lack of gratitude is under certain circumstance a capital crime.

    As for the rednecks, sure, they have their faults, but at least they love freedom and love this country. By contrast the drivel spewed by the New York Times and most of the media is enough to make any freedom loving American throw up. Liberals lie and lie and lie. They really do hate freedom, and they really do want to turn this country into a socialist craphole. “Libertarians” who join liberals in supporting America’s enemies are hypocrites who should be ashamed of themselves.

  53. TallDave,
    When I referred to our bases in Korea and Europe, I was referring to the costs of maintaining them for this long. If they were like Iraq (or we stay in that country as long as we’ve been in South Korea and Europe) the losses would be intolerable. Sorry for the confusion, but you’re still wrong.

  54. “If we had pulled out of Iraq in 2004, we would have an AQ-controlled Sunni rump state.)
    If we hadn’t invaded in 2003, we wouldn’t have to worry about an AQ state.

  55. bulbman,
    While I share your level of respect for the Europeans, to imply that wanting to get out of a war with no tangible benefit to us that was misbegotten in the first place and has been a continuing drag on our economy makes us limp-wristed Europansies is the height of idiocy. Wow, what a mouthful.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.