What to think of “Conditional Engagement”, the brief policy memo from Colin Kahl and Shawn Brimley of CNAS. Well, I’m not as skeptical as Kevin Drum. In essence, what I take them to be saying is that we should probably leave Iraq but if upon taking office the new President finds that key Iraqi politicians are all prepared to produce the pony we need then we ought to be willing to stick around. You can count me as very skeptical that this strategy would, in fact, produce a pony which is why I put emphasis on the idea of packing up our bags and going home but I don’t think I disagree with their literal claim.
Now of course a lot comes down to the details. But beyond the details, a lot comes down to the purpose here. Do Kahl and Brimley really intend to quit Iraq if/when the pony doesn’t materialize? Or is the real point here just to generate “a nuanced middle position between ‘all in’ or ‘all out'”? Certainly, I’ve had about enough of policymaking where we decide first to find a nuanced middle ground and then second sketch out what that nuanced middle ground means. It seems to me that a lot of efforts have been expended essentially with the goal of avoiding the DFH conclusion that we ought to leave Iraq at all costs.
So I’m skeptical. But I’ll be interested to see the longer version, because I don’t have a huge literal disagreement with what they’re saying and it sounds like the new report will be a big step in my direction relative to where “Phased Transition” had positioned CNAS.