We never had enough troops to begin with. For two years I’ve asked these generals, “Do we have enough troops?” “Yeah, we’re fine.” “Is the Army OK?” “The Army is fine.” A month or two ago, we found out the Army is broken, and they agreed that General Shinseki was right.
Now’s the time to start over. If we don’t start over and do what we should’ve done in the beginning—have enough people to win this war, have the Powell Doctrine implemented—we will pay a heavy price. So I support a surge in troops with a purpose, co-joining with the Iraqi military and political leadership to control this country. You can not have a democracy where you got militias stronger than the central government. You can not, not have a democracy where the people don’t have faith in their central government to take care of them. American forces going into Baghdad co-joined with Iraqi forces and a new political model is our best chance for victory. It may not work.
But this idea that nobody has called for withdrawal is folly on the Democratic side. John Edwards says pull out 40,000 troops now. Reid and Pelosi sent a letter to the president: “End this war, start redeploying in four to six months.” These Democratic proposals are, to me, a formula for defeat. They’re nothing more than just a political way to get out of Iraq, and it will come back to haunt us for years, and they never talked one minute in that letter what happens to Iraq when we leave. Is our national interest—security interest compromised with a failed state in Iraq, and does withdrawing lead to a failed state? Somebody needs to talk about that. [ ... ]
In all honesty, we are not winning. And if you’re not winning, you’re losing. And now’s the time to come up with a strategy to win. The reason President Bush is going to do this, because he understands that we have to win in Iraq. The reason Senator McCain and Lindsey Graham and a few others are supporting this when 14 percent of the public supports us and 80-something percent is against us is we’re thinking about the consequences of a failed state in Iraq. That’s more important than 2008. We cannot let this country go into the abyss. Now is the last chance and the only chance we have left to get this right.
But even those who favor a "surge" (the word that's going to be our next big bitter political joke) say that if we won't or can't go into Sadr City, it's a crock.
It is torment simply as a powerless citizen to try to decide in one's own mind what is right for this country to do about Iraq. I am surrounded by people who are very sure -- very sure -- that Iraq is a lost cause, that anything we do now is at best too little too late, and that a puny "surge" of 20 or 30,000 soldiers will merely be sacrificing more of our kids' lives to save Bush's face. The more people believe that, the truer it becomes. It's probably true anyway (and it's definitely true if Maliki stays in bed with al-Sadr), and so if you want to bet on the "safe" side (ironically so called), you'll go with probability and tilt the odds see-saw even further the way it's already going. Numerically, losers are already by far the winning side. That that view is reinforced by some vindictive relish in seeing Bush's reckless war fail cannot be denied. Dems, in turn, accuse Bush of wanting to drag the war out so the next president can be the one to be remembered for ignominiously snatching Americans off the roof with a helicopter.
Only two things can be counterposed against "We've lost, get out." One is that the war dance Osama did after driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan is nothing to the rejoicing that will sweep the jihadi world when America has actually been defeated. The psychological advantage that victory will give our enemies is very dangerous for us. Their morale will swell. Ours will sag. We will be very vulnerable.
The other is that we owe the Iraqis, plain and simple. Through carelessness and arrogance, we have exposed them to a barbarism as savage as Saddam's but far less ordered and predictable. If our own self-interest ran entirely the other way, our shameful debt to the Iraqis would not be enough; it will never be as strong as our responsibility for our own children. No nation is that quixotic. But our self-interest doesn't, in fact, run the other way. Lindsey Graham makes the point that a Middle East with the tornado of a failed Iraq at its center is unacceptably dangerous. If we are ultimately forced to accept it, it shouldn't be for lack of trying. We haven't been beaten by a superior enemy; we've been all but beaten by our own government's refusal to listen to both its generals and its scholars -- the people who knew war and knew Iraq and knew just what would happen, and said so.
The trouble is, we're forced to depend on the same gang to run the "surge" who blew the occupation. They had overwhelming, if uneasy, consent for this war going in. If they've lost our trust, it's their fault, not ours. It's a horrible situation, warped and poisoned by political greed all around. Graham:
I don’t think any Republican or Democrat should do anything right now to say the war is lost. We should try to win this war. And the day you say we’re going to withdraw—three months, six months, a year from now—the effect will be that the militants will be emboldened, the moderates will be frozen, and we will have sent the message to the wrong people. [ ... ]
Nobody wants to talk about what happens when we leave. I understand it’s not popular, but this war is not about the moment, it’s about the next decade and the decade to follow. It’s about our national security interests. It’s about the war on terror. Moderates vs. extremists. If we leave the moderates and leave it to the extremists, if we tell the extremists through our behavior and our actions, “We’re leaving Iraq in a year. It’s yours,” we will never know peace.
Or, in Dave Schuler's words, "We have only a limited number of alternatives to choose from and none of them is in the least palatable."
UPDATE: Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice confirms my sense of it:
Bush’s ability to “sell” based on words has diminished almost to the point of no-return. His credibility is at LBJ and Nixonian levels in the eyes of Democrats, many independents and, it’s increasingly clear, in the view of some Republicans associated with his father’s administration. Just stating “this is a strategy that will bring us victory” or “we can’t afford to lose in Iraq” won’t be enough anymore.