There has been a lot of discussion lately about the relative merits of withdrawing and staying the course. It is hardly surprising, given the stakes, that people are so aroused by this issue. I'm still trying to work through all the ins and outs, so what I hope to do in this post is discuss the various positions as I see them and perhaps suggest some way of resolving the matter.
As you would expect there is a broad spectrum of opinion on this subject. At one extreme are those who argue that by pulling out at just the right moment we can reduce the likelihood of making an already dicey situation worse. However the complete withdrawal position is vulnerable to the criticism that it may already be too late to prevent unwanted consequences. For example, in his recent paper “Cut and run or stay for fun?” Dr. F. Cowpers argues that “if the damage has already been done, and we have good reason to suppose that it has, we might as well enjoy the rest of the ride now that our lives are ruined anyway.”
The middle ground is occupied by those who favour a staged withdrawal, raising once more the vexed question of timing: pull out too soon and we risk missing out on the satisfaction of a job well done; too late and we may find we have reached the point of no return. The recently mooted “reduction” method appears at first glance to have some merit, but it is difficult to envisage how we could reduce our presence while continuing to thrust towards our objective. The needs of the other party must also be considered. If we did pull out could we still guarantee their satisfaction? One suspects that they would prefer us to stay the course and attempt to reach our individual goals as part of a team.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who are determined to see the task through to its completion come what may. Proponents of this position argue that pulling out will result in a big mess that we will probably then be obliged to clean up. This scenario is possible, but provided the withdrawal is handled correctly it is not inevitable. Aside from the timing factor, the main concern is with the fall-back position. If we remain too near there may be unpleasant consequences; on the other hand, we must ensure that we are close enough to provide ready assistance if required. Our ally may well be able to achieve its objective on its own, but it would be remiss of us to relinquish all involvement, especially considering the specialised equipment we have at our disposal.
This is clearly a complex issue, yet we ought not allow ourselves to become discouraged. It is easy to spurt forth globules of rhetoric but what is needed is sober reflection. When you want to come to the table with a sensible, workable plan, then that is the time for arguing, but until then relax, don't do it. I feel that the way forward is for us to communicate with our ally, to understand their needs, then progress from there. If they are comfortable with us pulling out then let's do it, and do it right. If not, then let's stay the course. The important thing is that we've already fucked them, no matter how we decide to end it.