Wednesday, May 02, 2007

We Come in Doing Cartwheels, We All Crawl Out by Ourselves

The always quotable Hilzoy riffing on Glenn Greenwald's post on the Israeli government's just released report tracing the anatomy of the failed Lebanon engagement last summer (in particular, Glenn's response to the notion that internal criticism and policy debate "emboldens" the enemy):
Glenn is absolutely right. The Israelis know very, very well how serious war is. For that very reason, most of them recognize that they do not have the luxury of (for instance) not issuing a report like this on the grounds that it might embolden Hezbollah. As Glenn points out, it did. But the harm that did is nothing compared to the harm that would be done were Israel not to try to figure out what went wrong, and how to correct it. Because, in the long run, the best way not to embolden Hezbollah is: not to lose. (Compared to actual losing, admitting you lost is trivial.) And the best way not to lose is to learn everything you can from your mistakes.
Those last two sentences really do cut to the heart of the matter. The concept expressed therein should inform our debate and discussion with respect to our continued engagement in Iraq.

While many of the more frenetic war supporters, like Vice President Cheney, tend to exaggerate the extent to which our eventual withdrawal from Iraq will "embolden" the enemy, there is some truth to the notion. When we finally leave that country, almost certainly in defeat (at least according to most criteria used), our enemies will be somewhat emboldened. They will have a better sense of the limits of our military power and perhaps the willingness of the populace to support long, expensive, bloody wars that don't seem to have attainable objectives. That last part is close to tautological, though.

Of course, our ongoing engagement in Iraq is also emboldening our enemies - a flip side to the same coin rarely mentioned by the Cheneys, Kristols, Krauthammers and Ledeens of the world. In Iraq, our enemies are learning hand's on the limits of our military power (both on a meta level, and vis-a-vis particular weapons systems and tactics), and our continued presence is proving to be a recruitment, fund-raising and PR coup for various and sundry adversaries.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that withdrawal would increase the current levels of emboldening by some measurable unit. Does that mean we shouldn't withdraw? The answer is no - which brings us back to Hilzoy. The withdrawal stage of the Iraq War signifies the acknowledgment that we lost. But the actual losing part - which, as Hilzoy argues, is much worse than any acknowledgment thereof - was taken care of long ago. The vast majority of the costs associated with "losing" the Iraq war have already been incurred, and those prodigious totals will only continue to increase as the occupation continues.

Accepting this reality - even in a public, demonstrative way through the withdrawal of forces - is but an afterthought. Even factoring in the subsequent blip on the embolden-ometer. Staying in Iraq won't prevent us from losing, or prevent our enemies from being reinvigorated.

Not starting the war in Iraq would have, and not fighting the next Iraq (also known as "Iran" in neoconservative circles), will.

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