The Paralysis Strategy

Fred Kaplan remarks on the paradoxical logic of Iraq: “Their unwavering stance amounted to this: Further pullouts might trigger defeat; the costs of defeat are too horrible to ponder; therefore, we shouldn’t ponder further pullouts.”

One way of looking at this is to say that it doesn’t make any sense. Another way of looking at it is to say that so many people hold to this view that it must make sense from some perspective. Taking that latter approach, I think you need to postulate a person who doesn’t care at all about the interests of Americans, Iraqis, or anyone else but does care a great deal about his reputation, a reputation that’s been tarnished by years-worth of advocacy for the war in Iraq. This person’s basic insight would be that it’s unlikely that Iraq will stay in a state of chaos forever. If we leave Iraq, then some stuff will happen in Iraq, then eventually Iraq will become stable and the reputation of the war supporters will be permanently stained.

By contrast, if we just commit to hanging around in Iraq indefinitely, then the odds are that sooner or later stability will emerge in Iraq. At this point, the war supporter can claim vindication of his views and begin a campaign to celebrate the heroic steadfastness of himself and his fellows in the face of the liars, smears, and cowardice of the anti-war faction. That’s not Petraeus or Crocker, who basically are just in a position right now where their job is to carry water and help Bush run out the clock, but I do think it’s a decent model of the incentives (I’m not a mind-reader, I don’t know what lurks in these people’s hearts) facing a John McCain or a Mike O’Hanlon or a Fred Hiatt at this point.