NO CREDIBILITY. As the Iraq War continues to get more and more hopeless, we're sure to start hearing more of the tautological trump card inevitably played by the dead-enders of ill-conceived wars: we need to maintain a ruinous war in order to preserve American "credibility." As Daniel Davies pointed out in comments about Michael Novak's particularly insane version of this argument, this would seem to be the �if something is not worth doing, it has to be done at ruinous cost� theory of deterrence. Or, as he put it in his more extensive discussion of why this doesn't work even as abstract game theory, "It is certainly true that one of the benefits of doing something stupid is that it saves you from having to spend money on maintaining your reputation as an idiot. However, is the reputation of an idiot really worth having?"
As our colleague Rob has pointed out in detail, the idea that one should keep fighting a ruinous war to preserve "credibility" or "reputation" is one of the dumbest ideas ever sent down the pike. Not only because a country has no effective control over its reputation, and there's no reason to believe that continuing with a failing effort actually is reputation-enhancing, but because logically it means that absent clear victory you can never get out of a bad war. If we keep fighting because pulling out will "send the wrong message" to terrorists or whatever, then we can never get out, even if the anarchy we've created in Iraq is obviously creating more terrorism. This is all fundamentally unserious. If we can't achieve our objectives, we should get out, period.