During the Vietnam War, for example, U.S. government planners identified fade-away as one of the alternative ways in which the war might end; that is, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army might fade away as the result of lack of success, sheer exhaustion, or attrition. It never happened, as we know, but is it likely that the Iraqi insurgents might fade away?
Anything is possible, I suppose, and no one can predict what will actually happen. But it seems wishful thinking that the insurgency will just go away—considering the number of insurgent factions, the issues dividing Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, the stakes at risk for them, the nationalistic anger of Iraqis against the American occupation, the apparent involvement of outsiders, and so on.
What is more likely is that as in Vietnam, U.S. armed forces will fade away; that is, the Bush administration, like the Nixon administration, might begin a phased withdrawal next Spring—if there is a friendly Iraqi government in place, if Iraqification has made progress, if there is the reality or appearance of security and political stability, and if American citizens demand withdrawal. Once the process of withdrawal began, it would be politically difficult to halt. Of course, the withdrawal could also drag on for years, as it did in Vietnam.
In any event, the withdrawal and the war would have to end with some sort of negotiated agreement between the U.S., the Iraqi government, and the main insurgent factions—and perhaps Syria and Iran. Once the Bush administration or any American administration decides to begin a withdrawal, it would likely want to negotiate a cease-fire in order that it didn’t seem like a bug out and in order to ensure that the withdrawal could be completed “honorably.” Thus, fade-away is just one more version of war-ending number two, a negotiated cease-fire during a militarily deadlocked war, in which one side more than the other decides it’s time to cut losses and get out.