I'm finding the Iraq debate to be increasingly frustrating. Liberals are now delighted that Maliki is agreeing with Obama's drawdown proposal (though the Sunnis, naturally, are less enthused). But this is missing the point. The point is that even though Iraq's violence is down at the moment, the fundamental question of what Iraq should look like has not been solved. The Sunnis and Shiites are currently being paid off and armed by us, which is keeping them from being at one another's throats, but this is temporary. Ultimately, the ethnonationalist visions of the three major groups in Iraq are fundamentally different, and until a system of autonomy or federalism is developed, violence will remain high, as will the risk of wholesale sectarian flameout.
Which comes to the crux of what I've been arguing here. THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN ANYWAY, whether we stay there or not. Our strategy for the past two years or so has been much smarter than the previous three, but that does not make the war a smarter idea. What should be going on here is a wholesale disavowal of the interventionist and certainly neocon, worldview, in favor of a sovereignty worldview wherein America protects free countries from aggressors but doesn't seek monsters to destroy. When implemented, this has consistently worked for us throughout our history, and our ideas have spread as we lead by example and defend free nations from aggressors like the Nazis or Imperialist Japan. Diversions from this principle, however, have repeatedly tended to undermine our own ideals and lead to quagmires and terrible suffering. Think Iraq, Vietnam, the decision to invade North Korea after liberating the South, and the like.
What bothers me is that this debate is not happening. We are ripe for making the same mistakes again, be it in Sudan or Zimbabwe or Burma or wherever is next. Moreover, when violence continues in Iraq after we start withdrawing troops, people will say, "oh, we need to stay" because we haven't established what works and what doesn't in the world. The fact is, the Iraq War made inevitable a sectarian bloodletting in Iraq. It was exacerbated by bad strategy, but fundamentally the idea for the war was wrong, and furthermore, the consequences of that decision cannot be fixed, only minimized.
The end result should be simple: no more wars against nonaggressor states, no matter how crappy their regimes. Whatever we do in Iraq, the endgame will be messy, possibly very messy, but one must ask... as opposed to what? As many as a million or many more are dead, a sixth of the country is displaced. At the end of the day, I not only trust countries to fix their own problems more than I trust foreigners to do so, but on account of ethnonationalism, the people in the countries in question feel this way too. I don't trust the Sunni and Shiite factions to resolve this peacefully. I'm pessimistic about Sudan and Zimbabwe also. However, I'm very, very confident that any military intervention or continued occupation and presence in these countries would make them WORSE, not better, and at the cost of major resources and a destabilizing of the global system, which is, still, built on sovereign states, and whose institutions are primarily designed to protect sovereign states from each other.
No one talks about this. No one seems to realize it at this point. And if they do, they don't make a big deal out of it. And as long as they don't, Iraq could happen again. And again. And again.