I caught the car…now what do I do with it?

Nicholas Kristof has a terrific column out today posing the question of what happens after we invade Iraq. Excerpt:

NAJAF, Iraq — As soon as American troops are rolling through Saddam Hussein’s palaces, the odds are that this holy Shiite city 100 miles south of Baghdad will erupt in a fury of killing, torture, rape and chaos.

The Shiite Muslims who make up 60 percent of Iraq — but who have never held power — will rampage through the narrow streets here. Remembering the whispers from the bazaar about how Saddam’s minions burned the beard off the face of a great Shiite leader named Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr, then raped and killed his sister in front of him, and finally executed him by driving nails through his head, the rebels will tear apart anyone associated with the ruling Baath Party.

In one Shiite city after another, expect battles between rebels and army units, periodic calls for an Iranian-style theocracy, and perhaps a drift toward civil war. For the last few days, I’ve been traveling in these Shiite cities — Karbala, Najaf and Basra — and the tension in the bazaars is thicker than the dust behind the donkey carts.

So before we rush into Iraq, we need to think through what we will do the morning after Saddam is toppled. Do we send in troops to try to seize the mortars and machine guns from the warring factions? Or do we run from civil war, and risk letting Iran cultivate its own puppet regime? In the north, do we suppress the Kurds if they take advantage of the chaos to seek independence? Do we fight off the Turkish Army if it intervenes in Kurdistan?

The question is: how many American lives and how many billions of dollars are we willing to spend in order to avenge Bush’s father? You might make the case that the oil will make up for the dollars, but how many servicemen have to die so that you can buy Premium at $1.09 per gallon? The more Americans look into the cost of war with Iraq, in dollars and lives, the less appealing it seems.

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Yeah. Like I would tell you....