Zbig Speak, You Listen

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Some very smart stuff about Iraq from Zbigniew Brzezinski a man who’s not without his flaws, but whose Iraq advice we certainly should have taken in 2002-2003 then again in most every single one of the intervening years. A couple of key points:

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.

I was thinking about this the other day as I found myself reading something about the tragic Lyndon Johnson administration. And it’s really worth focusing on. The right has made a lot of hay out of the fact that some anti-war types to some extent understated the extent to which a North Vietnamese victory would be a humanitarian problem for many South Vietnamese people. Much less hay has been made out of the fact that the hawks had been quite literally arguing that there was a straight line between the Communistification of Vietnam and then the inevitable spread of Communism to Malaysia, Indonesia, all of Asia, and soon enough the United States itself. The argument really was that we had to fact them over there or else we’d be fending them off from our very shores.

And it was ridiculous and remains so today. And yet the essence of the case for staying in Iraq indefinitely really does hinge crucially on these lurid worst-case scenarios. And it’s true — if we leave Iraq in the most irresponsible manner possible and we suffer from a lot of bad luck and everything that could go wrong does go wrong and we don’t respond to events intelligently, then these terrible outcomes might happen. But that’s no reason to stay in Iraq forever — if we stay and everything goes wrong, that’ll be terrible, too.

Now as Zbig says, a serious effort to get out of Iraq is going to require a political and diplomatic component as well as the mere absence of U.S. troops. One of the good things about the Responsible Plan for Iraq from Darcy Burner and other House challengers is precisely its recommendation of the need for this kind of diplomatic engagement, which really is crucial to trying to minimize the inevitable fallout from the United States doing what needs to be done in military terms. I would note that on the diplomatic front, it’s probably easier to get Iraq’s neighbors to contribute constructively to stability in Iraq once we’ve decisively decided not to run together “stability in Iraq” with “Iraq becomes base for U.S. power projection and mad schemes to overthrow all the governments in the region.”