WAR SUPPORTERS' LAST THROES.

WAR SUPPORTERS' LAST THROES. Everyone's getting their digs in on Rich Lowry and Bill Kristol�s "More troops to Iraq!"column in The Washington Post, as, indeed, they should. But I think today's chutzpah award has to go to TNR's Lawrence Kaplan, who has a new article hectoring pro-withdrawal commentators for feeling insufficiently bad about the sectarian bloodletting that will likely accelerate in the absence of the current buffer provided by U.S. forces. "The moral cost of abandoning a country we have turned inside-out seems not to have made the slightest impression on opinion-makers," he writes.

This is not actually true -- plenty of advocates for withdrawal have wrestled soberly and in earnest with the likely consequences for Iraqis of an American withdrawal. (Matt's dispatch in the September print issue argues explicitly that dynamics have reached a point in the Iraqi civil war such that neither withdrawal nor some other drastic American policy change, including the secure-Baghdad-at-last plan, can reasonably be expected to produce an improved outcome for Iraqis.) It is indeed true that professional politicians like John Kerry prefer to frame their advocacy for withdrawal in a hopeful argument that may have once been true but is now probably outdated (i.e., "this could spur Iraqis to try to resolve their own disagreements politically") rather than to make a lot of explicit statements along the lines of "we must finally retreat in full dishonor from this fiasco and leave Iraqis to accelerate the cycle of sectarian and ethnic slaughter that our own war of folly unleashed upon them." This provides Kaplan with some easy-target quotes to call out in indignation, but it doesn't really tell us much.

Kaplan, meanwhile, fails to do either of two things: On the one hand, he refrains from really making the explicit argument that Americans should continue to die at slow but steady rates indefinitely, with no compelling prospects of dynamics changing in Iraq, for the sole purpose of continuing to provide the buffer preventing Iraq's medium-intensity civil war from accelerating into a high-intensity one. On the other hand, he doesn't offer any actual prescription for changing the dynamics of the war -- something Lowry and Kristol at least have the conviction to do, whatever the merits of their advice. All Kaplan calls for is "staying until Iraqis have the means to restrain the forces unleashed by our own actions." But a good deal more than sheer "heartlessness" underlies withdrawal advocates' skepticism about the feasibility of the U.S. military resolving the Iraqis' own internal political conflicts. Matt and I discussed some of the issues and difficulties associated with third-party engagement in civil conflicts here and here -- in the context, I should note, of explaining why it had been a bad idea to launch this war in the first place.

The essence of a quagmire is, of course, the absence of any good options. Withdrawal advocates argue that it's the least bad option. Kaplan, the war supporter, now attacks those advocates for failing to appreciate sufficiently that the Iraq War is, in fact, a quagmire and that their preferred bad option is, in fact, bad. Call it the politics of churlishness.

UPDATE: More from Kevin Drum here.

--Sam Rosenfeld

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