… so I just want to jump in with a few quick points to complicate matters a bit.
First, we should “ignore/pressure” (as Andy says) any government when it’s in our interest. But in the case of the Maliki government, there is a feedback-loop in play. To the extent Maliki thinks we don’t support him, he must hedge his bets by relying more heavily on the militias. Thus, a strategy that calls for “putting pressure on Maliki to disband the militias” can easily turn into a logical absurdity. Maliki is already under internal pressure to disband the militias. The best way to incentivize Maliki to disband the militias may well be be to assure him of our full support–and that will often mean deference.
Second, I still don’t see why everybody assumes an inverse relation between the prevalence of security forces and the strength of the insurgency. I hate to keep coming back to this, but the Islamist insurgency in Algeria during the 90′s arose volcanically in the very teeth of an enormous army that was fully in control of the security situation everywhere. I promise you that if we send 60,000 more troops to Iraq, the effect on the violence could easily prove to be negligible-to-zero. This is a point people really should think about a little more; some of my closest friends simultaneously say that the level of violence is the wrong metric by which to measure success v. failure (with which I agree) and then turn around and say that “we must” quell the violence in Baghdad. It’s herd mentality to fixate on the levels of violence. If the Iraqi state continues to operate and expand its operations, it’s going to survive in the long run, and that will mean victory for us.
That brings to my final points. Andy says:
If militant Islam gets a net gain — i.e., if we leave Iraq (a) without defeating al Qaeda and (b) having shown Iran and Syria that terror promotion has no consequences — then Iraq is a loss for us, regardless of whether we leave it with a stable government.
That may be true, but I would urge folks to consider the matter the other way around. If we manage to figure out how to leave Iraq and leave a stable government behind (implying a government that can sustain itself, govern itself, and defend itself) than I would say that neither (a) nor (b) matter in the short run, for the following reasons.
(a) — Al Qaeda is a largely foreign presence in Iraq. They are not wanted there; they have not infiltrated any ministries; they are not even welcome in many parts of their Anbar province nest. A stable Iraqi government will take up the fight against them (and indeed is already doing so) and nothing could make me happier than the sight of Iraqis killing Al Qaeda fighters.
(b) We can show Iran and Syria the consequences of their aggression quite independently of what do or don’t do in Iraq. The trouble is that since the fall of the Soviet Union we have forsaken the strong balance-of-power foreign policy that you need to keep regimes such as these in line. Even if we reduce our force in Iraq to 30,000 troops, we will still be able to bring overwhelming force against Iran. We don’t want to occupy the country. We just want to correct it. What is missing is not the wherewithal, but the will.
My 2 pesos worth…