You've got to know when to walk away

The Pentagon eyes a plan for "doubling down" in Iraq.

Published December 13, 2006 8:00AM (EST)

As the president continues his listening tour, the Los Angeles Times reports that Pentagon officials are getting behind a plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq to launch a major combat offensive against the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr.

The troop increase could be in the 40,000 range, and it would be coupled with a long-term increase in the size of the U.S. armed forces. The proposal would also include a jobs program for Iraqis and more industrial aid for the country.

"I think it is worth trying," a defense official tells the Times in another of those "we've got nothing left to lose" assessments we're getting used to hearing now. The official says that you can't have the "rhetoric" about victory in Iraq without the resources to win it. "This is a double down," he says.

And indeed, that's the name by which the new plan seems to be going -- "double down." It all sounds so ... swaggery. And it would be, if it made any sense at all. See, when you "double down" in the game of blackjack, you're doubling your bet because you think the cards in your hand give you an advantage over whatever the dealer is showing. You're in a position of strength -- you're doing better than you expected when you first put your money down -- and you're taking advantage of the happy opportunity that Lady Luck has laid before you.

That sound like the right analogy for Iraq?

For "double down" to make any sense here, the war would have to be going better than we expected when we first got into it -- so much better that it's worth risking even more than we thought we were willing to risk when the war began. We'd have to be in a situation where, say, another round of troops would buy us not just a peaceful and democratic Iraq but a nuclear-free, American-allied Iran, too.

Is that what sending 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000 more troops to Iraq would be getting us? And if it's not, maybe there's another expression that better reflects what's being proposed here: "Throwing good money after bad."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Iraq Iraq War Middle East War Room