It’s true that terrible things will happen when U.S. forces withdraw. Mr. Bush was attacking a straw man when he mocked those who think we can make a “graceful exit” from Iraq. Everyone I know realizes that the civil war will get even worse after we’re gone, and that there will probably be a bloody bout of ethnic cleansing that effectively partitions the country into hostile segments.Okay, so I suspect like the vast majority of my readers, I certainly didn't want this war in the first place, and I've since been astounded by how ineptly it's been conducted by the administration. I will not profess to any clear idea about what the United States should do going forward; indeed, my ideas get more cloudy the more I keep reading.
But nobody — not even Donald Rumsfeld, it turns out — thinks we’re making progress in Iraq. So the same terrible things that would happen if we withdrew soon will still happen if we delay that withdrawal for two, three or more years. The only difference is that we’ll sacrifice many more American lives along the way.
But, still: when we are talking about "a bloody bout of ethnic cleansing," the argument that if it's going to happen in three years, we might as well get it over with now just doesn't do it for me. If the argument is that the ethnic cleansing will be worse if it's postponed, that's a different matter. Otherwise, having many (many) thousands of people survive several additional years is not nothing. If given the choice between myself dying today and dying in three years, for instance, I would choose to wait.
Whether it's worth the price for America is the question, but: one's moral calculus of how many Iraqi lives are worth one American life is not a matter I'm going to get into this morning, although I'm surprised at how high many fellow liberals seem to put the figure. I myself am uncomfortable with how cavalier some people seem to be about trading off hundreds of lives for one life just because the former were born in Baghdad and the latter in Des Moines. (Of course, I'm typing this from the comfort of not personally being on either side of the grim equation.)