"Both views of Iraq are right: the situation is awful and, four years on, cleverer U.S. commanders are winning a few. The enduring horror counsels a swift exit. The positive shifts bolster a catchphrase Cordesman found doing the rounds in Baghdad: “strategic patience.”
I side with the latter, provided the patience is indeed strategic and not just a means to kick the mess into the post-Bush world. That strategy should involve the following elements.
First, continue bolstering Sunni power and allegiance through aggressive use of aid and local security deals. A rough balance of power between the main Iraqi communities — Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish — is in the interests of Iraqi stability.
Second, while accepting that Iraq’s central government will at best be a respectable fig leaf and that strong provincial authorities are essential, pressure the weak Shia-dominated coalition to share oil money, power and space. Stronger American-backed Sunnis and fewer U.S. troops may help focus Shia minds.
Third, establish, with United Nations help, a regional framework for talks between the neighboring powers. Use this to reach out to Iran. Tehran wants America to fail in Iraq but not to the extent that Shia gains are reversed. That provides some leverage.
Fourth, recognize that all Middle Eastern problems — Israel-Palestine, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq — are tied and that the U.S. needs a coherent diplomatic strategy for containing jihadist fanaticism through ideological persuasion. An uncritical embrace of Israel does not help. And whatever happened to Karen Hughes, our invisible public diplomacy czar?
Fifth, protect the countless Iraqis who have helped America and are vulnerable. The U.S. urged Iraqis to rise up in 1991 only to abandon them to slaughter. Never again should be our policy.
The above may just avert the worst: a regional war in which a disintegrating country’s neighbors are drawn into carnage that makes current bloodshed pale.
Some see Iraq as the ultimate demonstration of the demise of American power. Fast withdrawal is in that view’s logic. But if you believe, as I do, that global stability still hinges on the credibility of that power, “strategic patience” is the least bad of the terrible options Bush’s now amnesia-clouded incompetence has bequeathed."