February 18, 2008

No Progress? Withdraw. Progress? Withdraw.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board not only contradicts its previous editorials on Iraq, today's editorial contradicts itself. After pushing for withdrawal from Iraq on the basis that the US and Iraqis had made no real political progress, today they argue that we should withdraw because political progress has undeniably begun. And in conclusion, they wind up arguing for exactly the opposite:

It has taken nine bloody and difficult months, but the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops appears at last to have brought not just a lull in the sectarian fighting in Iraq, but the first tangible steps toward genuine political reconciliation.

Last week, the parliament passed a crucial package of legislation that reflects real compromise among the many factions on three of the thorniest issues that have bedeviled Iraq. First, a law requires that provincial elections be held by Oct. 1, and requires that a law spelling out the details on conducting the election be passed within 90 days.

Despite this progress, we still "must" leave, the LAT exhorts us. However, they recognize that the success may make withdrawal more "difficult", because political and military leaders won't want to surrender the gains already made and put at risk future progress. Does this come as a surprise to the LAT? Apparently, they haven't had much cause to study war and politics, where surrendering gains and future progress are usually seen as, well, stupid.

In their concluding paragraph, they make the counterargument to their own editorial:

If the momentum of Iraq's political surge is sustained, it's conceivable that the United States, having torn the country apart in an ill-conceived invasion and a disastrous occupation, could help glue the biggest pieces together on its way out the door. But building a decent government will probably prove even harder than curbing the violence. And even under the rosiest scenario, it will be our moral duty to provide large-scale political, military and humanitarian aid, including support for the refugees who are beginning to trickle back home, for many years to come.

Well, in fact, that's a great argument for staying engaged in Iraq. As John McCain notes, if the American presence in Iraq provides stability, promotes reconciliation, and strengthens democracy not just in Iraq but in the region without costing American lives, why would we leave? We did the same thing in Korea, Japan, and Europe, and in fact we're still in Korea, Japan, and Europe, accomplishing all of those tasks and pressuring other regimes to change their ways.

This is just the latest volley from the retreat-and-defeat crowd. Instead of declaring the war lost, as Harry Reid did from the Senate floor, they've decided to call the war won -- and demand the same retreat. It's the same policy of retreat with a prettier, more electable message. We won! It's over! It's V-I Day, and now the troops and the US can just leave!

No, we can't. The progress is real, and has been for months, even while people like Hillary Clinton called American commanders liars for saying so. It needs to continue and we have to push al-Qaeda in Iraq out of the country entirely. We have to continue stabilizing Iraq and supporting their national reconciliation. Our role will evolve as the Iraqis become more able to provide for their own security, but we need to ensure that Iraq doesn't collapse.


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