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The Battle of the WaPo K's

So who's right? Krauthammer or Kinsley?

The two Washington Post columnists look at the question of whether we are winning or losing in Iraq. And whether we should stay or go.

I'll just go ahead and pop the tight-stretched balloon of suspense: Krauthammer wants to stay, Kinsley wants to go. Yes, quite a shock, isn't it?

Krauthammer begins by pointing to the successes of the surge and the Anbar Awakening.

"No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. . . . If the U.S. provides sustained support to the Iraqi government -- in security, governance, and development -- there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state."

-- Anthony Cordesman,

"The Situation in Iraq: A Briefing From the Battlefield," Feb. 13, 2008

This from a man who was a severe critic of the postwar occupation of Iraq and who, as author Peter Wehner points out, is no wide-eyed optimist. In fact, in May 2006 Cordesman had written that "no one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good." Now, however, there is simply no denying the remarkable improvements in Iraq since the surge began a year ago.

Kinsley essentially concurs.

It is now widely considered beyond dispute that Bush has won his gamble. The surge was a terrific success. Choose your metric: attacks on American soldiers, car bombs, civilian deaths, potholes. They're all down, down, down. Lattes sold by street vendors are up. Performances of Shakespeare by local repertory companies have tripled.

Krauthammer accuses the Democrats of thirsting after defeat.

Despite all the progress, military and political, the Democrats remain unwavering in their commitment to withdrawal on an artificial timetable that inherently jeopardizes our "very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state."

Kinsley goes to what looks an awful lot like circular logic:

But we needn't quarrel about all this, or deny the reality of the good news, to say that at the very least, the surge has not worked yet. The test is simple, and built into the concept of a surge: Has it allowed us to reduce troop levels to below where they were when it started? And the answer is no.

So the surge is bringing down violence, and because of the surge the Iraqi people seem to be managing a halting, shaky, bottom-up modus vivendi, but it's still a failure because rather than cutting to 100,000 men we're choosing to be prudent and hold onto 130,000? So it's time to flee?

We fought a war in Korea that came to a very unsteady draw. We've had troops there ever since. We still have forces in Germany and Japan. For that matter we have men in Britain which, I'm pretty sure are not there as a hedge against a repetition of the War of 1812. We have men all over the world, mostly not shooting or being shot at.

John McCain was politically stupid but perfectly right when he said we might keep men in Iraq for a hundred years so long as they aren't fighting. That's not a 100 year war, it could be a 100 year peace. It's been 64 years in Germany. Is anyone really upset by that? Because we kept those guys there, most of Germany remained free. And that Germany, "our" Germany, was able to absorb and rescue the other Germany when the wall came down. 64 years and the Germans show no sign of being interested in the Sudetenland. Would you have predicted, in 1944, that the aggressive, militaristic, genocidal Germans would acquiesce in a world order where they make the cars and we carry the guns? Would you have predicted that we'd be laughing at them for embracing David Hasselhoff?

I've said before that I entirely understand those people who say, look, this war was a mistake, we went in under premises that proved wrong, we mangled the occupation, the whole goddamned thing has cost us a hell of a lot more money than anyone told us it would, as well as men, and the game isn't worth the candle. Six years? Basta! Time to get outta crazytown. I don't think people who take that tack are traitors or defeatists.

But that's not the argument Kinsley is making. He's balancing his argument on a simple question of numbers. If we were willing -- after all we've finally learned about the Rumsfeldian idiocy of going in with too few men -- to cut an extra 30,000, Kinsley would be fine, it seems. But the fact that we're being prudent proves that we've failed.

Krauthammer's more right on this than Kinsley.

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“The Battle of the WaPo K's”

  1. Anonymous Kevin Says:

    I'd feel a lot more comfortable with the sentiment you've expressed here if I could shake the feeling that our limited success is purely dependent on the continued stand down order by Sadr.

    The surge has certainly exceeded my expectations but if the inevitible drawdown coincides with Sadr changing his mind, or the Turks getting greedy in N. Iraq, or the Sunni's deciding they don't want to play nice with us now that Al Qaeda has been nuetralized, what then?

    If we can get a real break political break through to cement in the gains we've made, I'll be happy to admit I was wrong about the surge. Until then, I'm withholding judgement.

  2. Anonymous wj Says:

    Interesting that Kinsley didn't make what would actually be his strongest argument that the surge has failed: President Bush said, at the beginning, that the success of the surge would be shown by one metric -- had the Iraqi government taken advantage of the (relative) peace it provided to resolve their outstanding political problems. Well, they haven't. Therefore, per Bush, the surge has failed.

    Of course, on any sensible view, it has succeeded in vastly reducing violence. But the Iraqi leadership hasn't gotten around to enacting the laws need to resolve their political challenges. They have, from what I recall, actually started to work on a couple of them. But only since it began to look like they were going to cease to have a US security blanket in the foreseeable future.