People who oppose a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces in Iraq argue that it would encourage insurgents to wait until the troops leave. That is absurd. They are already waiting. Most of them live there. And if the U.S. military is still there when they die, their children will wait as well.

There are two ways to stop the waiting. The first is to persuade individual insurgents that they can lead a safe, prosperous life if they put their weapons down. Right now, most Iraqis outside of Kurdistan have little incentive to prepare for an uncertain future. Many Iraqis able to leave the country have already done so. For those who remain, it is often safer to join the opposition than to work for the U.S.-backed authorities.

To change this calculus at the individual level would require at least 300,000 U.S. troops, several hundred billion more dollars in economic reconstruction and, to ensure this money is not wasted, a complete overhaul of the corrupt practices within the Iraqi government and the U.S. civilian authorities in Baghdad.

Even then the outcome would be uncertain.

If the American people are not willing to pay that price, the logical alternative is to withdraw.

The only other option is to keep American forces there for a very long time indeed. Is that what we want?

James Richter, Lewiston

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