Imagine this scene: It’s halftime at the Seahawks game. It’s a close game — the Seahawks got off to a slow start, but they now appear to be firmly in control and have a small lead. Just before the second half kickoff, Mike Holmgren announces that, come 4 p.m., whether the game is over or not, the team is going to hit the showers. He doesn’t think the fans have the patience to stay in the stands any longer, it just costs too darned much to keep the lights on in the stadium, and, besides, the players need to get home to their families.
Can you imagine the outcry? Yet this is exactly the strategy Barack Obama wants to follow in Iraq. We heard it again from Joe Biden in the VP debate: President Obama will have all our combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months.
This should be intuitively obvious, but apparently it isn’t, so I’ll say it anyway: it is stupid, and unforgivably irresponsible, to tell your enemy when you’re planning to quit fighting. So either they’re lying about the 16-month timeline, or they’re stupid and irresponsible. Either way, it’s a problem.
Even if — and I’m not saying this is the case — you believe your ally isn’t stepping up, and you need to give them a deadline so they’ll get serious about accepting responsibility for their own security, you do that in private. You don’t publicize it to the world (which, by definition, includes your enemies), and you don’t formalize it in legislation. Twist all the arms you want behind the scenes, but when you’re in the middle of a war, the only acceptable outcome is victory, and the only acceptable message to send to your enemy is that you won’t stop until you’ve achieved it.