Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Decision Time


By Josh Marshall

Let me echo Atrios' point here about the hand-wringing consensus on Iraq among so many prestige pundits and return to the point I made back in June on TPMtv about the importance of decision in war leaders.

There does seem to be this pattern developing in which members of the WaPo-Bush consensus, having been heedless of caution when the wind was at their back have suddenly become devotees of prudence and the go-slow or rather no-go approach now that their favored policy has collapsed.

Physical courage isn't the only test of war leaders. Decision is also a key virtue. In many respects it's the key virtue for leaders since in the modern day they are seldom themselves in any physical danger. Yes, withdrawal may be a disaster. In fact, there's little doubt it will be a disaster for some players in Iraq, probably many players. But we're so deep into the pit at this point that our decision-making is inevitably constrained now to choosing from a range of disastrous policy courses and figuring out which is least bad. That's life.

I think one of the reasons for the paralysis Atrios notes is that making a major strategic choice forces us to come to grips with the disaster that is already on our hands. Perpetuating the slow-motion disaster that is the status quo is necessary to sustain our denial. But there is no virtue in paralysis and 'humility' isn't something that comes with a lot of credibility from those who had so little of it when they got us into this mess in the first place.

And one other point. I know there are many people who are for immediate withdrawal. No delays. Out in a matter of months. But I don't think that's a majority position even among those who are strongly against the war. That is because the situation is so bad and so unpredictable that it is hard to make categorical decisions before we've even got the practice started. Speaking only for myself but I suspect speaking for many others as well, the key is that we start the process. The key is that we make a category decision that the US occupation of Iraq is more the problem than the solution. Everybody is for leaving Iraq -- as Fred Hiatt might say. But saying we're going to have to make a decision in six months or after this or that improbable development means never.

For those who are trying to create a straw man argument between staying and leaving in a mad dash, that's a false dichotomy: what's necessary is that basic strategic decision -- which I think almost everyone save the president and his acolytes have made. I think quite a few people who are deeply against the war realize that getting out may not be easy or quick. The issue is starting -- not considering starting in six months, or a month, or after the Iraqis stop killing each other or after the Sunnis and Shia work out their differences about Ali and the family of the Prophet or anything else. All of those equal never because a clear-eyed look at the situation tells you that leaving is never going to be easy or free of bloodshed or, perhaps most importantly, free of the need to recognize that the whole thing was a terrible idea, a war built on deception and deceit at every level.

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