The always compelling Dave Schuler is trying – again – to start a conversation on the future of Iraq. I think Dave would agree he’s having limited success. Winds of Change is trying it, too, resulting in a lot of calls in comments to “nuke ’em all,” and some more reasonable suggestions for “what we must do.”

Almost everyone is talking policy. Seldom do people talk power. This may be where I disconnect. I tend to start from what can be done, not what should be done. We should be able to eat pie and not get fat. Alas, we can’t. So there’s not much point wishing, is there?

Several factors limit what we can do as opposed to what we should do.

1) We can’t nuke ’em all and let God sort them out. Sorry, we can’t: we’re the good guys, remember? We’re the Americans. So forget the armageddon fantasy.

2) We can’t send in another 200,000 men and in effect re-invade Iraq. We don’t have the men.

3) We don’t even have the men for “keep on, keepin’ on.” The army isn’t big enough. It was supposed to be supplemented by an Iraqi army under the direction of a competent, non-sectrian Iraqi government. Doesn’t seem to be happening, and we don’t seem to be able to convince the Iraqi government to try.

4) We can’t re-institute the draft to grow the army much bigger because there is no one anywhere in politics today who could sell that to the American people. Imagine the speech where George W. (30% support) Bush announces that he’s asking for authority to draft 200,000 men. Now imagine how many milliseconds it would take for the entire GOP to distance themselves from that proposal.

5) We can’t tell the American people to shut up and be patient for ten years. There’s an election a little over a year from now. 20 GOP senators will be defending. Half a dozen are potentially vulnerable. The entire GOP House contingent will be defending and many of them are vulnerable. A Democratic president backed by a Democratic Congress is simply not going to announce to the voters that we’re staying in Iraq forever.

So every suggestion that we throw nukes, grow our force overnight, or simply “tell the American people” to sit tight and wait for ten years is politically, practically, ridiculous. The capability does not exist. The power — whether hard or soft, military or political — does not exist.

So, what can we do?

1) We can pretend we can still win with even fewer men. Because that worked so well the first time. This is the “kick the can down the road and try to pass the blame to the Democrats,” option. I’m guessing this will be the Bush solution. (Tough luck, GOP Congressmen.)

2) We can talk about closing the borders and standing off in Kuwait and waiting to see whether civil war breaks out. Then we can watch the civil war. Maybe it won’t be another Somalia. As for our ability to close the borders of Iraq, does the word Mexico ring any bells?

3) We can hope real hard. We can hope for a miracle that causes the Maliki government to set aside tribalism and reach a core set of agreements with the various factions. Yep, all we need is for the Shia and the Sunni, the Kurds and the Turkmen, the Iranians and the Saudis and the Turks to reach a deal, followed by a sudden outbreak of that well-known middle-eastern tolerance and competence and . . .

. . . and you see why I’m not optimistic?

The right’s new line of attack is to demand that critics supply answers before criticizing. Because that’s how you handle your doctor, your plumber, your auto mechanic and everyone else who fails you, right? You don’t criticize unless you can prove you can do their job better?

Well, I have a counter: if you have a suggestion for how we can salvage Iraq, don’t forget to include the means whereby your fantasy solution could come to pass. In the real world. You know, this real world.

Cross-posted from Sideways Mencken.

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