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November 16, 2005

Iraq: A Decent Interval By Any Other Name
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

_40336701_nixon_and_kissinger300_1 Let's face it, the President and the Republicans in Congress have reached back to the Kissingerian formulation of a "decent interval" as their preferred exit strategy for Iraq.  Here's what Bush said Friday: 

"As Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down. And with our help, the Iraqi military is gaining new capabilities and new confidence with each passing month.  At the time of our Fallujah operations a year ago, there were only a few Iraqi army battalions in combat. Today, there are nearly 90 Iraqi army battalions fighting the terrorists alongside our forces."

He neglects to mention that only one of those battalions is capable of "standing up" without US support.  In passing today's amendment and Iraq, Senator John Warner and others used similar language

Bottom line:  the Administration knows there's no chance the Iraqi government can "stand up" to a point where they'll no longer depend on US troops anytime soon.  Ten years after Dayton Bosnia is still not capable of independent self-governance.   By calling for Iraq to "stand up," the Administration and its backers are asking for the Iraqis to mount a temporary semblance of self-sufficiency so that we can get out, knowing full well that short of years of nation-building, the chances of subsequent civil war and state failure will remain very high, and no one will be willing to rescue Iraq if that happens.   

This parallels closely Nixon and Kissinger's thinking on Vietnam:  namely that if they could only win a "decent interval" between American withdrawal and the fall of Saigon, they could avert blame for the collapse and the perception of a humiliating defeat.

As a result of the Administration's disastrous policies, we're faced with a set of terrible choices on Iraq.  But before tacitly backing what amounts to a "decent interval" approach, we need recall the results of such a policy 33 years ago:  namely the prolongation of the Vietnam War long after the Administration had come to grips with the fact that maintaining South Vietnamese independence long-term would be impossible.  The intervening years saw thousands of US and Vietnamese casualties.  As this AEI review put it:  "the decent interval was covered in blood."  The same would be true in Iraq.

Those talking about getting Iraq to "stand up" need to think long and hard about whether what they really mean is to "prop up" in Iraqi state just long enough for us to hightail out and, if so, what the consequences of such a policy will be for both Iraq and for our the American servicemembers whose lives are at risk there.

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