Wednesday, July 11, 2007

In or Out

New York Times: By Thomas Friedman
As we move into the endgame, though, the public needs to understand that neither Republicans nor Democrats are presenting them with a realistic strategy.

Obviously, President Bush’s stay-the-course approach is bankrupt. It shows no signs of producing any self-sustaining — and that is the metric — unified, stable Iraq. But the various gradual, partial withdrawal proposals by many Democrats and dissident Republicans are not realistic either. The passions that have been unleashed in Iraq are not going to accommodate some partial withdrawal plan, where we just draw down troops, do less patrolling, more training and fight Al Qaeda types. It’s a fantasy.

The minute we start to withdraw, all hell will break loose in the areas we leave, and there will be a no-holds-barred contest for power among Iraqi factions. ...We must not kid ourselves: our real choices in Iraq are either all in or all out — with the exception of Kurdistan. If those are our only real choices, then we need to look clearly at each. ...

Getting out ... means more ethnic, religious and tribal killings all across Iraq. It will be one of the most morally ugly scenes you can imagine — no less than Darfur. You will see U.S. troops withdrawing and Iraqi civilians and soldiers who have supported us clinging to our tanks for protection as we rumble out the door. ...

...I prefer setting a withdrawal date, but accompanying it with a last-ditch U.N.-led — not U.S. — diplomatic effort to get the Iraqi parties to resolve their political differences. If they can, then any withdrawal can be postponed. If they can’t agree — even with a gun to their heads about to go off — then staying is truly pointless and leaving by a set date is the only option.
This does bring back images of helicopters on the roofs of the Saigon embassy. It also begins the next stage of public debate, on not whether but how we withdraw, taking dead aim at the "staged redeployment" rhetoric of recent days.
I am not necessarily convinced by Friedman's prognostications (his record on Iraq is, to put it very generously, mixed), but the Administration's utter failure to develop a meaningful alternative strategy (e.g., soft partition with negotiated population exchanges), and the utter failure of what passes for an Iraqi central government, may well lead to what Friedman foresees.

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