When I suggested, tongue in cheek, that we accept the Vice President's position that the insurgency is in its last throes and begin withdrawing, I was only half kidding.
Now many "experts", most in the mold of the Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Cheney, would disagree with my suggestion. You remember, "cakewalk," "we know where the WMD are," and "we'll be greeted with flowers in the streets." The folks who gave us that wisdom now have a new litany of sage prognostications which they announce as if they are reading off stone tablets. "Failure is not an option". "Iraq will descend into chaos, possibly civil war". "We have to stay the course to avoid a humiliating defeat." "Our oil supplies are at stake." "Iraq will become a breeding ground for terrorists," "If we do not succeed Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Emirates and the rest of the region will be thrown into chaos and be vulnerable to extremists," ad nauseam.
The problem with all of these statements, aside from being totally refutable on their merits, is that they assume we can "win" in the sense of bringing a peaceful, democratic, stable, pro-American, devoid of insurgent groups, unified Iraq into existence. We can't. And the sooner we come to that realization the sooner we will be able to put this sorry episode behind us, bear the shame of having failed, put up with some more regional uncertainty, and hope to begin the very slow process of rebuilding our national and international self esteem.
Now I would not suggest that we withdraw without first having declared victory. After all, we succeeded in our declared war aim - Iraq has no WMD. On our secondary was aim we also succeeded - Hussein is behind bars. The interim government has been established and has promised to hold Constitutional elections this fall. They should be held to that deadline and their failure to achieve it will be theirs, not ours. The only remaining thing is for us to insist that the Iraqi government to establish a timetable for completing the process of rebuilding its army and police force - to be completed in not less than two years. Our withdrawal, which should be staged according to that timetable. (We should be able to begin immediately based on the numbers of troops the President has already announced are our fully operational.) If, in the future, the Iraqis fail to meet their timetables our withdrawals should continue as scheduled, to be sure they know we are serious.
Everyone knows that Vietnam is not a perfect analogy, but consider this. What was the difference between the U.S leaving Vietnam after the Tet offensive in the Spring of 1968, and when we finally withdrew in 1973? Sadly, the answer is about 30,000 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives. We could have had "Peace With Honor" in 1968 and saved ourselves and the Vietnamese a lot of death and destruction. But we didn't because we were told, failure was not an option, Vietnam would descend into chaos, the Communists would take over the country, we would suffer a humiliating defeat, the Soviet Union would use our defeat to press its advantage throughout Africa and the Middle East, and all of Southeast Asia would fall to the Communists, jeopardizing even South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Australia. At the time, these outcomes were accepted as gospel and were so dire that they could not be seriously debated.
Did any of that happen? Yes. We suffered a humiliating defeat and Vietnam became Communist. We got over our defeat and now have diplomatic relations with Vietnam. It's hard to argue that our international prestige was in worse shape after the war than it was during the last five years of the conflict. But the rest was all conventional wisdom bunk.
(There was one other thing, though. We destroyed our Army, which took over a decade to rebuild. We are well on the way to destroying it again and the rebuilding period could well be longer.)
Here we are again. We have a choice. We can accept reality now or accept it two, five or eight years from now. For the United States the difference will be the numbers of brave Americans killed or wounded in the process, the amount of money spent, and the level of resentment we leave behind. For the Iraqis, it will only mean a delay in the arrival of that day when they complete the process of establishing the country they desire, with or without civil war. It may be one country or maybe three, but they will get there. And the length of the period of turmoil will be less the sooner we leave.