Those who say we must stay the course in Iraq appeal to our worst fears and better natures.
They appeal to our worst fears by saying we must fight in Iraq or die in America.
We must fight terrorists on foreign soil, they say, or we will end up fighting them on our own soil.
As President Bush puts it, "This is a war in which, if we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy would follow us here."
As John McCain puts it: "When we lost the war in Vietnam, we came home, the enemy didn't follow us home. These people want to follow us home."
(Actually, one of the chief justifications for the Vietnam War was the notion that the enemy would follow us home. It was called the Domino Theory, and it posited that if we didn't fight communism in Vietnam, all of Southeast Asia would fall, then the Philippines, then Australia and then, eventually, we would be battling men in black pajamas on the Golden Gate Bridge. It didn't turn out that way. Today, American tourists crowd Hanoi — the Viet Cong do not crowd San Francisco.)
It is hard to find all that many people, however, who actually believe that the terrorists now operating in Iraq would or could "follow us home" if we withdrew.
As William Douglas of McClatchy Newspapers recently wrote, "U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic experts in Bush's own government say the violence in Iraq is primarily a struggle for power between Shiite and Sunni Muslim Iraqis seeking to dominate their society, not a crusade by radical Sunni jihadists bent on carrying the battle to the United States."
Proponents of staying in Iraq appeal to our better natures by saying if we leave before we achieve victory, a bloodbath on a horrific scale will follow in Iraq and we could not live with that on our consciences.
I wonder. If we leave, the blood spilled would be Iraqi blood and not American blood. And I think the American people might be OK with that.
I put this directly to McCain in an interview I did with him earlier in the year, and he disagreed, saying the carnage that followed an early withdrawal would be so great that the American people would not accept seeing it as a regular feature on the nightly news.
"In this day and age of video and instant television, it would be horrendous," McCain said.
But, as if suspecting that humanitarian concerns are too slender a reed upon which to base further American occupation, those who wish to remain also ratchet up their argument with a little dose of realpolitik: Having already destabilized the region by invading Iraq, we will further destabilize it by leaving Iraq. This could lead to possible invasions by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Syria, and then the United States would be forced to return, but this time at an even greater disadvantage.
Which is why McCain says there can be no consideration of a Plan B, an alternative to the current U.S. occupation of Iraq.
"I believe that Gen. Eisenhower didn't have a Plan B at Normandy, and I don't think that Gen. Grant had a Plan B when he decided to take Richmond," McCain told The Associated Press on Sunday.
But we have been fighting in Iraq longer than we fought in World War II and longer than we fought our own Civil War, and the patience of the American people has been stretched to the breaking point.
Which is why some are now talking about a Plan B that doesn't include a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, but a withdrawal out of Baghdad and other deadly urban areas. We would then station our forces at the borders of Iraq to make sure there were no invasions and also do what we could to suppress the civil war there. This is now what is being called a policy of "containment."
According to The Washington Post in March: "Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, a former chief of Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East, said Congress is 'drifting toward containment' and predicted that option will soon begin gaining popularity."
The drift may become a stampede, however, if we don't achieve some kind of success in Iraq by September, when we are due to assess how well the troop surge is doing.
If there is not significant progress, we will probably see a race between Democrats in Congress pushing for a complete withdrawal and Republicans pushing for containment.
And those who want to just hunker down, take the casualties and stay the current course are going to be a lonely few.
Why? Daniel Serwer, former director of the Iraq Study Group, told CBS News last week that while the group recommended pulling out all U.S. combat troops from Iraq in 2008, this is no longer possible.
"You're talking about staying from five to 10 more years," he said. "You're not talking about staying a few more months."
Which would mean we would be staying in Iraq at near current troop levels until at least 2012 and possibly until 2017.
And I just can't see many people running for election or re-election with that as a campaign pledge.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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