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The best exit strategy: no strategy

Once again, the tired old fossil called the "exit strategy" is being hauled out, creaking and groaning, and once more pushed to the forefront.

I can understand its appeal. The war in Iraq is ugly, and we Americans don't like seeing this go on and on and on. But the idea that we should set a date by which we will leave, come hell or high water, is just plain stupid.

As others have pointed out, the way one wins a war is by either killing enough of your enemy that he can't fight, or convincing them that they cannot hope to win. This is also known as attacking their means or their morale.

Right now, the terrorists (I refuse to call them "insurgents") in Iraq are hoping that if they kill enough of us, we'll get fed up and leave. In the meantime, though, they're losing a LOT more people than we are. Further, the foreign fighters' propensity for killing civilian Iraqis is starting to grate on the nerves of the home-grown terrorists, and we are starting to see a rise in "red-on-red" incidents, where the two are actually coming to blows and killing each other instead of us. This is a GOOD thing.

But let's presume we do set a deadline for our withdrawal from Iraq. Immediately we give a HUGE boost to the terrorists' morale -- "all we have to do is hang on until December 2006 (for example), and we win by default!" The immediate result of a timetable for withdrawal will most likely be an immediate decrease in deaths, but that will be merely the calm before the storm, as they will be saving up and resting and re-grouping and re-arming for the civil war that will break out the instant the last American leaves Iraq.

But there's a far more compelling reason why setting an "exit strategy" or a "timetable for withdrawal" is such a bad idea: they don't work.

Let's apply that notion to previous American wars, and see how it played out there. I'm going to just limit it to those after the Civil War, as all prior to that were fought almost entirely on American territory, or lands that would become part of the United States.

So let's start with the Spanish-American War -- America's first taste of foreign adventurism. At the conclusion of the war, we occupied two major territories -- the Philippines and Cuba. We kept the Philippines right up until World War II, until the Japanese took it, and then we took it back. We maintained a military presence there right through the Philippines' independence up until 1991, when they asked us to leave -- which we did without a single shot fired.

And in Cuba, we also granted them independence, with the exception of one small piece of real estate that we have kept until this day. But I'm sure we've all heard enough about Guantanamo Bay lately.

In World War II, we fought Germany and Japan. After defeating them, we occupied them. And 60 years later, we still have forces in both nations. I have yet to hear anyone propose an "exit strategy" for either nation.

In Korea, we fought the communist North to a standstill, and that war still technically continues. We still have a sizable military presence in South Korea, as a deterrent against the conflict flaring up. I don't hear any talks about "exiting" South Korea, but all it would take would be a formal request from the South Korean government that we pack up and ship out, and we would do so -- as we have in several other cases (see the Philippines, for one).

On the other hand, let's look at three other wars. In World War I, we won the war, but "lost" the peace. When it became clear that our allies were intent on "punishing" Germany for the war, President Wilson said "to hell with this" and the United States retreated back into isolationism. And the highly-punitive and ruinous terms of the Armistice did, indeed, lay the groundwork for Hitler's rise and brought on World War II.

In Vietnam, we concluded a treaty with the North and pulled out our forces. Within two years, the North tossed aside their agreement and attacked again, conquering the entire South and subjecting the entire nation to brutal Communist rule.

And in the first Gulf War, we liberated Kuwait and crushed Iraq's military, driving deep into Iraq. But President Bush, under tremendous pressure from our allies in the Arab world, refrained from pushing all the way to Baghdad and driving Saddam from power -- a decision that has been second-guessed from the outset, and probably will continue to be so for decades, if not centuries. Instead, we pulled out our forces on the ground, leaving only aircraft enforcing "no-fly zones" as the only presence within Iraq. By leaving Saddam in control, we allowed him to rebuild his power -- but this time not through military might, but through money and influence by corrupting the ever-corruptible United Nations, laying the groundwork for the current situation.

I think it was Secretary Rumsfeld who said it, and said it best: we don't have an exit strategy in Iraq, we have a victory strategy.

Because exit strategies are for fighting and ending wars -- not winning them.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The best exit strategy: no strategy:

» Eternity Road linked with Exit Strategies

» Blatherings linked with Freedom Comes Hard

» Caerdroia linked with Last Plane Out

» Rip & Read Blogger Podcast linked with Rip & Read #126 - 2005-06-28

» Watcher of Weasels linked with Submitted for Your Approval

Comments (13)

Very well said, not ... (Below threshold)

Very well said, not really much to add to this post. Sometime sit seems like the libs/dems are al-jazeera's best friends.


10/3/2000:MODERATO... (Below threshold)
Just John:


MODERATOR: New question. How would you go about as president deciding when it was in the national interest to use U.S. force, generally?

BUSH: Well, if it's in our vital national interest, and that means whether our territory is threatened or people could be harmed, whether or not the alliances are -- our defense alliances are threatened, whether or not our friends in the Middle East are threatened. That would be a time to seriously consider the use of force. Secondly, whether or not the mission was clear. Whether or not it was a clear understanding as to what the mission would be. Thirdly, whether or not we were prepared and trained to win. Whether or not our forces were of high morale and high standing and well-equipped. And finally, whether or not there was an exit strategy. I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in my approach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders. I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place. So I would take my responsibility seriously. And it starts with making sure we rebuild our military power. Morale in today's military is too low. We're having trouble meeting recruiting goals. We met the goals this year, but in the previous years we have not met recruiting goals. Some of our troops are not well-equipped. I believe we're overextended in too many places. And therefore I want to rebuild the military power. It starts with a billion dollar pay raise for the men and women who wear the uniform. A billion dollars more than the president recently signed into law. It's to make sure our troops are well-housed and well-equipped. Bonus plans to keep some of our high-skilled folks in the services and a commander in chief that sets the mission to fight and win war and prevent war from happening in the first place.

The Myth of an exit strateg... (Below threshold)
Americans have always hated... (Below threshold)

Americans have always hated war and viewed it as a waste. Unlike the French or the Germans we have never ventured into a campaign of gobal conquest.

There is also one other unheard of characteristic of the American soldier and that his or now her willingness to risk their life for the freedom of others. No other nation in the history of the world has ever fought a war so someone else could be free until now.

You know we really only have two choices here 1) We can do what we are doing or 2) The President can push a few buttons and Iran and North Korea disappear from the face of the earth.

I think the biggest misconception the general public has is that we are not really at war, well consider this.

1) We have an enemy that has vowed to destroy us at any cost.
2) They have told us that they are willing to pay any price to win, including using their childern as suicide bombers
3) There is no tactic or weapon that they would not use against us in this war. The dream of the terrorists is to plant a nuke in mid town Manhattan and as a result kill millions of Americans.

These are all stated goals of our enemys. Tell me this is not a war. If you think it is not just ask them.

I got your timetable right ... (Below threshold)

I got your timetable right here: 12 months after we get out of Germany.

And/or the UN.

One of the things about the... (Below threshold)

One of the things about the end of Gulf War 1 was then-President Bush's allowing the Iraqis to fly helicopters, which allowed Saddam put put down the rebellion against him. From what I've heard/read, if he'd simply declared ANY aircraft a target, Saddam may well have been thrown out then.

Exit strategies are for whe... (Below threshold)

Exit strategies are for when you're losing a war. The constant drumbeat from the "It's a Quagmire" crowd strikes me as being a rather effective attack on American morale, but I'm at a loss as to how to counter it.

Listen to Kennedy bloviate ... (Below threshold)

Listen to Kennedy bloviate on quagmire and General Casey's takedown on the podcast today. I also read Jay's excellent rebuttal on exit strategies in this post. Great work, Jay.


Exit strategies are for exi... (Below threshold)

Exit strategies are for exiting a country after your objectives have been achieved, or when your position becomes untenable. Neither has happened yet. Our objectives will be achieved, then our people can come home. I'm tired of seeing that the left wants us to lose. They are declaring our position untenable when it is clearly not. We are very seldom the object of attack in Iraq. Mostly they are targeting the civilians, police, and Iraqi military. Yes, we are losing people, but it's to harrassment, booby traps, the occassional sniper, and booby trapped dogs. We are winning, they just want us to lose so badly they can't see it. It hurts them so badly they can't distinguish reality from their own desires.

Those who call for an exit ... (Below threshold)

Those who call for an exit strategy and want us to give a timetable to pull out are the same people who caused the American people to turn against the war in Vietnam. We lost the Vietnam war in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, etc., not in Vietnam.

We can't let those who want to see America fail in Iraq succeed.

Conservatives are so reacti... (Below threshold)

Conservatives are so reactionary it's pathetic. Perhaps thats why the polls show the president slipping, dipping and occasionally rising. I think public debates are far more effective than this blog crap. It's easy to sit your scrawny lil ass behind a keyboard and belch your opinion. What are you willing to say in public, in line at the local grocery store? At the park after over hearing some idiotic blather echo? Conservatives are not what they used to be, now we have nice little conservatives who have just opinions and quaint yet polite logical no action squalk. If there are so many "red" state pro Bush supporters, then why the hell are there so many A-holes on the freeway and roadways? I've got a Bush sticker on my car too! You think President became president by sitting around complaining? No he leads with rational, spontaneous conservativsm. Ronald Regan, God rest his soul didn't wring his hands over the socialist agendas. Ever notice that liberals always repeat the good ideas? Conservative ideas? HELLO! I long for the time when conservatives don't have to say they are conservatives. Liberals didn't dare mouth off their stupid ideas for fear of being laughed out of the room. When are conservatives going to do something unique and spontaneous rather than react to the liberal morons? Thats what I thought...


Helwoe, I wish my ass was s... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Helwoe, I wish my ass was scrawny.

Got anything of real substance to contribute?

I thought not.


Playing with the trolls aga... (Below threshold)

Playing with the trolls again, Jay Tea? Tsk, tsk, tsk.






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