Keven Drum puts the piercing question:
So: if you do believe we can win in Iraq, let's hear what you mean by "win" and how you think we can do it, and let's hear it in clear and compelling declarative sentences. "Stay the course" isn't enough. What Bush is doing now obviously isn't working, so what would you do that's significantly different?
But the premise to Drum's question is wrong. Note his key assumption: "[w]hat Bush is doing now obviously isn't working" and will inevitable result in defeat in Iraq. In his formulation, our choice is thus between staying and losing or going and losing: now, choose, friendly hawk-o-sphere.
This is a false choice. Indeed, it's a mistake to presume that if we stay in Iraq that we'll inevitably suffer a long and slow defeat. Crystal balls are wonderful things, yet, sadly, this does not mean that they exist. We may yet win -- even if Bush merely "stays the course." (What would victory look like? I prefer McCain's vision: "[t]he day that I can land at the airport in Baghdad and ride in an unarmed car down the highway to the green zone is the day that I'll start considering withdrawals from Iraq.")
Look, I've made clear (ad almost naseuam) that I'm disatisfied with Bush's handling of the war. I've also laid out what I think we should do in order to give us a better shot at victory. But declare defeat? Understanding the unfortunate parallel to Grand Moff Tarkin, "I think you overestimate their chances." A lot of things have gone right in Iraq. We've had a successful election. We may yet get a Constitution. The nascent Shia revolt of last summer is no more.
Are we there yet? No, of course not. Have we made terrible mistakes? You know it. Is either of these things the same as losing? Not by a long shot. It's trite and it bears an uncomfortable resemblence to a soundbite, but it's true: Democracy is a process, not an event.
We can make a good guess, however, what will happen if we withdraw. It almost certainly won't involve "winning" (however defined). It will more likely involve the government collapsing, and Iraq slipping into anarchy. It's also likely to result in more alleged chemical weapons laboratories being found in places like Mosul, where terrorists (it seems) were almost ready to begin manufacturing chemical weapons by the truckload. Do you think that those chemical weapons, if made, will only be used in Iraq?
The choice is between a policy (Bush's current policy, my proposals) that might result in defeat but that might also result in victory, or a policy (withdrawal) that will almost certainly result in defeat. In either case, a defeat will have devastating effects for the world -- and us.
The United States is facing the moment for which we foreign policy realists endlessly prepare: the moment when there are no good options. When there is only bad and worse. We may very well be in a quagmire in Iraq; we may continue to lose young lives and still lose the war. But the other option -- pulling out -- is worse. Our troops are all that are keeping Iraq from slipping into chaos; our troops are the only ones that are keeping Iraq from becoming the terrorist Wal-Mart for WMDs (the second time as farce, natch); our troops are providing the Iraqis' sole shot at democracy.
It is too early in the day to declare defeat. Let's wait, at the least, until we've actually lost. Our troops should remain.