My post yesterday concerned Tunku Varadajan's WSJ interview of Milton and Rose Friedman. I noted that I was pleased to learn about Milton's opposition to the Iraq invasion.
In the next section of the interview, however, Milton says,
But, having said that, once we went in to Iraq, it seems to me very important that we make a success of it.
I find that statement puzzling, since the invasion is a sunk cost. The only relevant question now is whether our continued presence does more good than harm. As I have written previously, I believe it does not:
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.