About a week ago, I listened to an impassioned speach by Hillary Rodham Clinton in which she declared that the US soldiers won in Iraq (applauding the troops), but that it was the Iraq government that failed.
Hence we should leave, and leave now.
The speech has been resonating in my mind.
The classical liberalism tradition has an interesting solution for failed a government. It is called an election.
When you really get down to the brass tacks of democracy, the real value of democracy is not that democracy gives people the best possible government. The real value of Democracy is that it gives a people a chance to recover from failure.
In some ways it is fortunate that the government of Nouri al Maliki is seen as ineffective and weak. The most common way for Democracies to fail is that the first government is too strong. The leaders then refuse to leave.
The most critical election in a new democracy is not the first election, but the second and third elections. The real challenge of democratic nation building is in establishing the precedent of peaceful transfer of power.
When Bush chose to invade Iraq, he was committing our nation on a decade long struggle to get Iraq to its second election.
Unfortunately, the Iraq National Assembly has an absurdly long 4 year term. Which means the next election isn't until January 2009!
Anyway the question on the table is what to do after this troop surge. My answer is that we have to have a single minded focus on getting to the second election. The Iraqi election cycle should be our time table for withdrawing the troops.
In some ways it is fortunate for the next US president that the Iraqi election is coming right after the US election. A wise candidate for the US presidency would work this fact. A wise politician wouldn't base their Iraq policy on the large number of failures of the Bush Administration. A wise politician would base Iraq policy on whatever opinions get expressed by the Iraq election.
Conversely, if Bush were wise, the next step in our military adventurism in Iraq would be a single minded focus on this second Iraqi election. Our primary goal in Iraq should simply be to provide security through the second election. In other words, the Iraqi election cycle should be our time table for withdrawl.