In this high-stakes game of chess, what is missing is some intermediate move on our part -- some Plan B that Maliki believes Bush might actually carry out -- the threat of which will induce him to fully support us in this battle for Baghdad. He won't believe the Bush threat to abandon Iraq. He will believe a U.S. threat of an intermediate redeployment within Iraq that might prove fatal to him but not necessarily to the U.S. interest there.
We need to define that intermediate strategy. Right now there are only three policies on the table: (1) the surge, which a majority of Congress opposes, (2) the status quo, which everybody opposes, and (3) the abandonment of Iraq, which appears to be the default Democratic alternative.
What is missing is a fourth alternative, both as a threat to Maliki and as an actual fallback if the surge fails. The Pentagon should be working on a sustainable Plan B whose major element would be not so much a drawdown of troops as a drawdown of risk to our troops. If we had zero American casualties a day, there would be as little need to withdraw from Iraq as there is to withdraw from the Balkans.
We need to find a redeployment strategy that maintains as much latent American strength as possible, but with minimal exposure. We say to Maliki: you let us down and we dismantle the Green Zone, leave Baghdad and let you fend for yourself; we keep the airport and certain strategic bases in the area; we redeploy most of our forces to Kurdistan; we maintain a significant presence in Anbar province where we are having success in our one-front war against al-Qaeda and the Baathists. Then we watch. You can have your Baghdad civil war without us. We will be around to pick up the pieces as best we can.
This is not a great option, but fallbacks never are. It does have the virtue of being better than all the others, if the surge fails. It has the additional virtue of increasing the chances that the surge will succeed.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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