September 30, 2004

The Two-Iraq War Trap

Peter Beinart has a column in the Washington Post today laying out the evidence that Bush could be preparing to cut and run from Iraq if re-elected. Now, cutting and running in and of itself isn't a bad thing, as long as that's the best possible option. On the other hand, if it's being done purely for political purposes, cutting and running is obviously pretty irresponsible. But I don't think either is the case here. It seems that Bush genuinely believes that if Iraq ever asks us to leave, then they must be self-sufficient -- and if they're self-sufficient, then we've "finished the job." Never mind the possibility of sectarian violence, never mind the growing insurgency hives, never mind the threat of Kurdish secession. What matters to Bush is the appearance of some sort of legitimate "handover."

I think the confusion here comes largely from the fact that there are actually two Iraq wars, and the administration has refused to recognize this. The first war -- the war Bush sold us -- was to overthrow Saddam Hussein and put a thriving democracy in its place. That war is over; we lost. The second war will need to defuse the rather massive security crisis that Bush has created in Iraq -- which is at present a failed state, a prime recruiting ground for terrorist groups, and a source of regional instability. With that in mind, this Newsweek article by Retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner, who helped plan the first Gulf War, has perhaps the best recommendations yet for Iraq: The next president will need to sit down with the State Department and his military commanders, figure out what the most realistic objectives in Iraq are, and do what needs to be done to pursue them. In other words, figure out how to fight the second war, and handle an actual threat to national security. Right now, there is very little evidence that Bush is at all worried about this threat, and that's why, as Beinart suggests, he would be more likely to cut and run.
-- Brad Plumer 2:35 PM || ||