05/09/2008 10:11 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Iraq Remains an Unbalanced Policy Equation

One can claim that any faltering policy area, whether it be education, health care, or energy, can be fixed through expending unlimited resources, maintaining vigilant patience and demanding an open-ended time table. This might be an acceptable portion of any policy, but it is just that: merely a portion of the whole. Yet in regards to Iraq, this is the sole predicate to the rationale behind maintaining a presence there. This is why, in the abstract, the typical Bush administration and John McCain argument that we need more time and patience and resources (both human and monetary) in Iraq rings hollow. (Yes I know war is itself unique from any other policy area. Yet, it's still instructive to examine the Iraq war from this perspective because it provides another context from which to examine why our Iraq policy has largely been a failure.)

Looking at any issue through this prism of "more time plus more resources will equal the reversal of a perilous problem" is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest. At least with most domestic issues, there is a specific blueprint on how an issue can be fixed--regardless of whether or not the policy fix will actually work. Failing education system? Provide school choice, increase accountability and money for schools. Widespread lack of health care? Establish private sector mandates, expand government programs. Foreign energy dependence and global warming? Invest more in renewable, clean sources of energy, implement higher efficiency standards. Time, patience and resources are all components of these, but components, not the policy itself. With Iraq, we just hear half this equation from the military and political leadership. We need more time for political reconciliation; we need more resources to create breathing room to ensure reconciliation occurs; we can't have any timetables because this would send the wrong signal. That is where the policy arguments end, though, sans true specificity and without finite policy objectives.

With nearly all areas of policy, we also know or hope for a specific result. Health care: more people insured, a reduction in costs. Education: better schools, smarter kids. Energy: decreased reliance on foreign oil, cleaner environment. You don't just throw money and time at these issues, but you also allocate an exact way to spend the money and resources, and delineate a specific timetable (or at least a desired timetable) for when one should expect positive results. In terms of Iraq, the Administration and others have laid out several desired objectives. The problem is that the various goals have shifted, become amorphous, and quantifiably unattainable over time while the policy itself has remained stagnant: more patience, more resources, and no firm, anticipated timetable for when the results will be attained.

Here's a test: name one other policy area besides Iraq that solely uses endless time, endless patience and endless resources as an acceptable rubric for successfully implementing policy. You can't since none exist. This, more than anything else, might help explain why our presence in Iraq continues to be a bottomless, misappropriated, and misguided mess.