There is a consensus forming about Iraq, and increasingly I suspect that the Democratic party is on the wrong side of it. The consensus is this: though we were certainly the cause of the current instability in the country, the violence is not principally directed towards American forces. In light of that fact, David Ignatius at the Washington Post has this suggestion: military triage.
Maybe we should think like firefighters. They try to save every life they can, but they don’t take crazy risks. […] A “firehouse strategy” would make triage decisions. It would deploy U.S. forces so that they aren’t caught in the middle of collapsing walls and blazing timbers. It would emphasize the training of Iraqi forces to fight the blaze. It would build firebreaks so the disaster doesn’t spread to other rooms in the Iraqi house. Most of all, a firehouse strategy would try to keep this sectarian blaze from jumping national boundaries. U.S. and Iraqi troops can create buffers by moving significant forces toward Iraq’s borders
So long as we are not the main targets or causes of violence in the region, we should remain there. So long as we can do more good than harm, we stay to clean up after our incompetent leaders. Scholars of the region agree that the current violence is sectarian, or sometimes simply feudal, in nature, and is not any sort of freedom-fighting or guerrilla-resistance aimed at a foreign occupier. The explosive violence is mostly attributable to warlords and their militias, many of whom use ethnic and religious distinctions to create loyalties, but who nonetheless are fighting for material gains for their in-group, and simply manipulating the larger Sunni/Shiite solidarities and antipathies to find sources of funding and weaponry abroad. They pursue their goals using the techniques of ethnic cleansing: terrorizing and killing the out-groups in order to create homogeneous blocs over which they can exercise their power. These guys will duke it out in Iraq regardless of our presence: their own safety depends on the destruction of their enemies, so for them it’s a fight to the death.