Re: Iraq By the numbers
I do think that the facts on the ground have changed to a large extent, which makes setting a timetable for drawing down troops seem like a reasonable outcome. So if there was a compromise that said "troop levels will fall below 80,000 in Iraq by January 2009" with a goal of hitting 50,000 by 2010 if there was not a sudden surge in violence, I would find probably find this acceptable.
But if the goal is to have 0 troops in Iraq by 2010 or 2011, I think that this is too drastic a course of action. What happens if 10s of thousands of Sunnis a week are being rounded up by death-squads after there are no troops in Iraq in 2010?
This would make sense to me if you had some evidence that half the troops we have now would do any good in stopping this possible scenario. We had 120k there for years and couldn't stop the violence, why would half the troops accomplish it? I guess I don't see the point especially when you consider that having 50-80k troops would set back security in this scenario and make political progress even tougher, we are simply back to the stay-in-Iraq for 10 years model that we both agree is unsustainable.
To rehash the Korea analogy, I don't think that an open-ended commitment of a certain amount of forces (30-50k) in a strategically viable region of the country (Kurdistan) would be either a) militarily untenable, as the current troop commitments are or b) politically untenable. Now, whether those troops would stay for 50 years like they did in Korea is another story, but staying for another decade in that kind of strategic posture, with ebbing violence and a relatively non-chaotic political situation, seems like it would be the best outcome we could hope for.
This I could potentially accept as long as we were willing to revisit the decision and our troops were basically as safe as they are in Korea. I've heard too many stories, in the media and personally, lately of maltreated soldiers (by our nation), lonely kids, divorced military wives and husbands, etc. to ever argue for a small percentage of our citizens to continue to carry such a burden for such a long time. It's really horrible what we've done to our soldiers.
To bring out another historical analogy, I think this is a very different situation from Vietnam, where the fall of Saigon in 1975 presaged a regional genocide (in Cambodia) but not the perceived strategic disaster that the Domino Theory entailed. I think simply leaving Iraq to its fate would not only possibly be the U.S. authoring another human rights crisis, but it could also turn Iraq into an anarchic land of fiefdoms run by warlords, which given its location could be a nightmare for U.S. foreign policy. It would not surprise me if complete withdrawal (even if it happened over 2 years and was contingent on a concomitant stability in the level of violence) did not end up requiring the U.S. to go back in a few years later to crush some sort of neo-Taliban in, say, what are now the Anbar or Diyala provinces.
So we are back to the 10+ year commitment. It's not that I disagree with all your scenarios which all seem possible, it's just that we have a choice: commit to a decade or longer or pull out. The middle ground does not work. And you know as well as I that we don't have the military personal or the political will to sustain what we need to to make this work. Since we don't, it is pointless to pretend otherwise. No?