Friday, March 30, 2007

Timetable on Iraq

I've blogged previously that I believe that a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a bad idea; it merely tells the bad guys that they can wait you out and you'll be gone. And now the senate and house have passed bills that contain timetables, which Bush has threatened to veto.

Yet I'm about to make a suggestion to President Bush that seemingly contradicts myself:

Mr. President, you should embrace these bills, not veto them. And then take it as a challenge to beat the timetable by knocking some Iraqi leader heads together and finally making some forward progress on achieving the stability that you have not achieved over the past 4 years. In particular, start pursuing a political solution with the same intensity that you have pursued a military solution. (Fareed Zakaria has a great article this week pointing out how important the political side of this is - and how little progress you have made.) Make it your focus.

Think about it: it's the ultimate Judo move. Right now the Democrats have the momentum, largely because of your handling of the war. They've played right into your hands, doing precisely the sort of "timetable to failure" that you've said they would do. Call their bluff. If you can clean up the political mess, you can begin the withdrawal early and you become a hero for actually succeeding there AND bringing home the troops. Everybody wins, you and republicans in particular.

After all, isn't the issue not whether or when to withdraw (I'd hope that everyone - even you - wants to withdraw at some point before eternity), but rather under what conditions? After all, the problem with a timetable isn't the fact that it's a timetable; the problem with a timetable is that it implies that you pull out even if conditions do not warrant doing so. (And if you are willing to extend the timetable due to conditions on the ground, then what is the point of the timetable?)

But by fighting this, you give credence to the idea that you don't really want victory, you just want to stay in Iraq. I may think that a timetable is a bad idea, but I have to say that staying in Iraq with no visible political progress is much worse. Heck, even pulling back to Kuwait and letting the ethnic groups butcher each other until they realize that they have to solve it themselves, and THEN going back in to help them would be better than the path we seem to be on now.

You should take the date not as a micromanaging constraint, but as a challenge, as a dare. The Dems don't think you can do it. Why not give them the ultimate humiliation and show them that they're wrong? Vetoing the bill, though, just plays into their hands.

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