Opponents of a swift withdrawal speak of potential consequences that are dire in the extreme: the eruption of a wider civil war with ever more horrendous Iraqi casualties; the transformation of Iraq into a safe haven and even more of a training ground for anti-American terrorists; the involvement of neighboring countries like Iran, Syria and Turkey in a spreading conflict that could destabilize the entire Middle East.
Vice President Dick Cheney told troops at Fort Drum, N.Y., on Tuesday that in the event of a swift withdrawal of American troops, Iraq ''would return to the rule of tyrants, become a massive source of instability in the Middle East and be a staging area for ever greater attacks against America and other civilized nations.''
If the hawks are right, if all of this is so -- and if this war is, indeed, still winnable -- then the Bush administration has an obligation to level with the American people, explaining clearly what will be required in terms of casualties, financial costs and other sacrifices, and telling the truth about the shabby, amateurish state of the Iraqi security forces.
As it stands now, the United States is incapable of defeating the insurgency with the forces it has in Iraq. So it is beyond preposterous to think that Iraq can be pacified in a year or 18 months or two years by a fledgling, underequipped Iraqi Army and a hapless police force riddled with brutal, partisan militias.
What's more, the U.S. military itself is in danger of cracking under the strain of this endless Iraq ordeal. Troops are being sent into the war zone for their third and fourth tours, which is hideously unfair. The more times you roll the dice, the more likely snake eyes will pop up.
The combination of troop shortages, declining public support for the war and the Republicans' anxiety over next year's elections all but ensures some substantial reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq over the next eight to 12 months.
If this war is worth fighting, it's worth fighting right. And that means mobilizing not just the handful of troops who have borne the burden of this wretched conflict, but the entire nation. Taxes would have to be raised, the military expanded, the forces in Iraq bolstered and a counterinsurgency strategy developed that would have some chance of actually defeating the enemy.
To do that would require implementing a draft. It's easy to make the case for war when the fighting will be done by other people's children.
If this war is as important as the hawks insist it is, the burden should be shared by all of us. The youngsters sacrificed on the altar of Iraq should be drawn from the widest possible swath of the general population.
If most Americans are unwilling to send their children to fight in Iraq, it must mean that most Americans do not feel that winning the war is absolutely essential.
The public initially supported this war because the administration was very effective at promoting the canard that Iraq was somehow linked to Al Qaeda and involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Now the hawks must once again bear the burden of persuasion. They must persuade the public that the U.S. should continue indefinitely fighting this war, which has embedded us in such a hellish predicament and taken such a horrendous toll.
If it's not worth fighting, then we should be preparing an orderly exit now.
Herbert is absolutely right, if the consequences of leaving Iraq are as dire as people like Cheney insist they are, we should be taking action that can give us a reasonable chance of making Iraq into a stable country. That means increasing troop levels dramatically, which means a draft. That means not cutting taxes for the wealthy (as the House recently did). If the stakes are as high as they claim then they need to be taking a case for expansion to the American people. They wont do that because they know the American people will reject that expansion, Bush, Cheney, and their supporters are unwilling to make that case, its time to just get out. I don't want a draft, nobody wants a draft, and if we're unwilling to committ to an expansion of this war we cannot afford to stay in it.