The Senate this weeks takes up debate on U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. The House last week rejected a call to set a specific timetable, and the Senate will probably reject any measure that encourages or requires troop reductions.
Opponents of "cut-and-run" claim withdrawal now will lower world opinion of the U.S.; it would show we do not have courage of our convictions. This view is not trivially dismissed; the world should think badly of the U.S. when it makes bad decisions.
But that merely begs the question: what is the right policy toward Iraq? That depends on what effect our presence has on the prospects for peace and prosperity.
My view is that U.S. presence hurts those prospects, partly because our presence is one source of conflict in Iraq, partly because our presence delays the kinds of reconciliation that are necessary before peace and prosperity can develop on their own. In particular, my best guess is that Iraq will dissolve (further) into civil war once we leave, whether that departure is in a year, or five, or fifty. That civil war will be costly to the Iraqis, but it is an unavoidable part of the transition to a better situation.
If my forecast is accurate, our continued presence generates large costs to the U.S. while harming Iraq. So, under this scenario, cut-and-run is the right policy.
Moreover, any observers who share this perspective will raise their opinion of the U.S. if we display the intelligence and guts to admit our mistake and do what we can to correct it.
Now, I cannot prove that the scenario I have described is the correct one. It seems the most likely one to me, but only the future can say for sure.
But this is the right question, not whether withdrawal looks weak or cowardly. Perseverance in a misguided cause can only lower the world's opinion. We look smarter and more courageous if we save our resources for battles that can and should be won.