If it’s in or out in Iraq, why not in?

Is accepting defeat in Iraq really a good idea?

Kevin Drum is eloquent:

“Staying the course” is the worst possible strategy we can follow in Iraq. We either need to commit enough troops to get the job done or we need to pull out. Since the Bush administration isn’t willing to do the former, the only option left is the latter. We should no longer be asking American soldiers to pay the price for Don Rumsfeld’s vanity and George Bush’s stubbornness.

I’m not sure he’s right, though. Is it obvious that staying in Iraq for 10 years has worse consequencs than pulling out? And if the best strategy, all things considered, is to commit enough resources to do the job right, then why shouldn’t we be demanding exactly that?

Of course Bush doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to withdraw, either. Why is it unthinkable to demand a policy leading (maybe) to success rather than one that cuts our losses and accepts failure?

Perhaps Kevin’s answer would be a version of Brad DeLong’s: Since any policy entrusted to the present clown show is sure to end in disaster, the only reasonable course is to minimize the size of the disaster. But that seems to me too glib. As Don Rumsfeld might say, you don’t fight the war with the Administration you wish you had, you fight a war with the Administration you have.

Update Several reader emails make it clear that the above failed to make itself clear. I’m not suggesting that the original neo-imperialist dream of bases and oil concessions is simply a shot no longer on the board, if it ever was on the board. But leaving behind a more-or-less-working republic rather than a mess still might be feasible.

And yes, security is the major issue, but it’s not the only issue. The better the reconstruction goes, the less support the bad guys will have.

How about we get the US prime contractors out of the way and start handing out big bundles of cash (totalling tens of billions) to whoever we think might be friendly or useful, for specific reconstruction and economic development tasks? The way I figure it, our occupation activities are costing us roughly the GDP of Iraq; spending that amount of money ought to be able to buy us some friends.

Sure, lots of it would be stolen. But at least the thieves would be Iraqis, whose support we need as a country, rather than US companies, whose support for the GOP, praiseworthy as it no doubt is, doesn’t actually serve any particular national interest.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com