The contrast between the Democratic argument for ending the war and the Republican argument for continuing is sharp and dramatic. The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for "staying the course" draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios. President Bush's and Sen. John McCain's forecasts of regional catastrophe are quite reminiscent of the predictions of "falling dominoes" that were used to justify continued U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Neither has provided any real evidence that ending the war would mean disaster, but their fear-mongering makes prolonging it easier.Brzezinski is right: there's no point in denying that U.S. withdrawal might lead to increased bloodshed in the short term. It most likely will. But it's highly unlikely to lead to a catastrophic regional meltdown of the kind that the chaos hawks peddle on cable TV. What's more, Brzezinski is also right that the risk of increased violence is inescapable at this point and, in fact, probably grows the longer we stay in Iraq. The events in Basra over the past week ought to make that clear.
....Contrary to Republican claims that our departure will mean calamity, a sensibly conducted disengagement will actually make Iraq more stable over the long term. The impasse in Shiite-Sunni relations is in large part the sour byproduct of the destructive U.S. occupation, which breeds Iraqi dependency even as it shatters Iraqi society. In this context, so highly reminiscent of the British colonial era, the longer we stay in Iraq, the less incentive various contending groups will have to compromise and the more reason simply to sit back. A serious dialogue with the Iraqi leaders about the forthcoming U.S. disengagement would shake them out of their stupor.
Ending the U.S. war effort entails some risks, of course, but they are inescapable at this late date. Parts of Iraq are already self-governing, including Kurdistan, part of the Shiite south and some tribal areas in the Sunni center. U.S. military disengagement will accelerate Iraqi competition to more effectively control their territory, which may produce a phase of intensified inter-Iraqi conflicts. But that hazard is the unavoidable consequence of the prolonged U.S. occupation. The longer it lasts, the more difficult it will be for a viable Iraqi state ever to reemerge.
Brzezinski wants us to shake Iraqi leaders "out of their stupor," and the only way to do that is to make it clear that we really are leaving. Leaving responsibly, but leaving nonetheless. And the only way to make our withdrawal credible is to create a timetable and then stick with it. No benchmarks that hold out hope of us staying, no blue ribbon commissions with split-the-middle plans, and no long-term superbases that inevitably draw us back in to every local firefight — just withdrawal. January 20, 2009, seems like a good start date.