The last combat brigade has pulled out of Iraq. There are still 50,000 American troops there, but their purpose is nation-building, which in the context means training the Iraqi army and police force. This, at a time when the deadlock persists between two rivals who both claim to have won the general election and so have the right to be prime minister. Neither looks like giving way, which is the classic setting for the resort to force.
And worse still, within the last week, a suicide bomber attacked an army recruiting office, killing some 40 young men and wounding over 100 more. Al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranians are certain to be preparing for whatever level of violence they calculate will give them a hold on the political process. Plenty of evidence exists about Iran’s surreptitious arming of proxies in Iraq. The senior Iraqi general, no less, has just made a statement that he would like American forces to remain in the country until 2020.
In the circumstances, President Obama is running the highly dangerous risk of unleashing free-for-all civil strife in which the winner will be whoever is the most ruthless, indeed a new-model Saddam Hussein. That would undo all the good work of the past long and often difficult seven years. Obama’s legacy already looks shaky enough without that.