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What's next in Iraq? 

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

Lies, incompetence, ignorance and bluster masquerading as strength have all combined to turn Iraq into the worst American foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, or maybe even since 1812, when the United States invaded British colonial Canada, prompting the Brits to invade and burn down Washington, D.C. D'oh, eh!

Simply put, there is no good way forward in Iraq.

If the United States pulls its troops out tomorrow, Islamic militants will continue to transform Iraq into a haven for anti-Western terrorists, while tens of thousands of Iraqis will die in gun battles, car bombings and gruesome ritual murders.

But if U.S. troops stay, well, Islamic militants will still continue to transform Iraq into a haven for anti-Western terrorists and tens of thousands of Iraqis will still die in gun battles, car bombings and gruesome ritual murders.

The Bush administration is no longer looking to turn Iraq into a mini United States in the Middle East. At this point, the United States would settle for a stable Iraq governed by a West-friendly strongman, not entirely unlike what Saddam Hussein was to the United States back in 1983, when Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad shaking his hand and giving him a green light to use poison gas on Kurds and Iranians.

In a last-ditch effort to achieve those goals, the Bush administration is expecting to pursue one of, or a combination of, some of the policies outlined below.

Increasing the number of troops in Iraq: Several people, most notably 2008 presidential wannabe Sen. John McCain, have proposed increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Proponents of the "put more troops in" idea want to focus U.S. military power on stabilizing Baghdad. First impose some order in Baghdad, proponents of this idea argue, then work your way out. It's a derivation of the counterinsurgency strategy known as the "oil-spot strategy."

It's a swell idea in theory, but it's not realistic. The Washington Post has reported that the Pentagon has already concluded that there aren't enough U.S. troops or quality Iraqi security forces to make it work. Proponents of the idea know this. They also know that the American people are not willing to stomach an even bigger, open-ended troop commitment.

A cynic might argue that McCain and others who recommend this unrealistic proposal are only doing so to politically position themselves as both critics of the Bush administration and as foreign-policy tough guys (as opposed to antiwar Democrats, who are critics of the Bush administration and foreign-policy pussies). It's a good thing I'm not a cynic.

A swift and near complete U.S. pullout: Why not? The U.S. military hasn't brought democracy or peace to Iraq. It has simply replaced Saddam-centric violence with sectarian violence and terrorism (not to the mention the tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of "collateral" deaths resulting from U.S. military operations). Why let another U.S. soldier die for a war that's already lost?

Because, critics of an immediate pullout rightly argue, an immediate pullout will almost certainly accelerate Iraq's death spiral. The United States owes Iraq's fledgling democrats its best effort, even if more Americans die.

Go long: In D.C.-shorthand, the above plans are known as "Go big" and "Go home," respectively. Several newspapers are reporting that a hybrid of the two plans, known as "Go long" is currently the Pentagon's favored option. It would involve adding 20,000 to 30,000 troops to the current 140,000 in Iraq, followed by a long, slow pullout that would still leave at least 60,000 troops in Iraq.

The pros and cons of this policy? They're summed up in a quotation given by an unnamed U.S. military intelligence official to the Washington Post. Said Mr. Anonymous, "The 'Go Long' approach is one that can work if there is sufficient strategic patience, resources appropriated and [if] leadership executes effectively."

If we had strategic patience, resources appropriated and effective leadership, we wouldn't be in this mess.

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