For the record, I think it would be disastrous to leave for leaving’s sake. Sure, if there’s some way that we could leave and keep Iraq on course to stability and democracy, that’d be great. But I know of no technology nor of any replacement troops — Iraqi or allied — that could manage that. I see absolutely nothing wrong with pulling American troops out of South Korea, for example, if we can provide the same deterrent without them being there. I’d love to pull troops from just about everywhere if their missions wouldn’t be compromised in the process.
And while I cannot muster the Kremlinology required to figure out what’s going on with Novak’s column, I would like to make one general point. Pulling out would be a perfectly principled thing to do according to a certain straign of conservatism. A good realist could say “Right or wrong, we did what we thought was necessary to protect ourselves. Now we’re getting out.” Now I think this would be a mistake. But the principle of smashing and leaving others to pick up the pieces is intellectually — if not always morally — sound. I think we have to stay there for the long haul, as long as the long haul is necessary.
However, there is no principled reason for a liberal to want to bug out. Unless, that is, he or she honestly believes the Iraqi people would be better off by an American bug-out and civil war. But that’s a hard case to make. Liberals have had a total of one idea about foreign policy in the last two decades: nation-building. That’s their thing. All of the arguments for nation-building which applied to Somalia, Haiti, Yugoslavia etc apply even more to Iraq. Moreover, there’s the additional issue of our national interest. Indeed, if you believe any of the “root-causes” rhetoric of liberal foreign — and domestic — policy then you should believe that rebuilding Iraq is a vital national and global interest.
That’s what’s so repugnant about John Kerry’s basic position and the Democrats’ support of it. Kerry shouldn’t be complaining about how much we’re spending he’s should be complaining about how little we’re spending. Some honest liberals — like the editors of the New Republic (see their latest editorial if you have access) — acknowledge this. But most are perfectly fine with any line of criticism against Bush’s Iraq policy so long as it comes from a Democrat or is likely to help John Kerry. That’s one reason why John Kerry and John Edwards sound so much like Pat Buchanan on foreign policy these days.