It would be one thing to suggest that the tradeoffs between democracy and stability you discuss in your post are a matter of hindsight, but they may also simply be the product of wishful thinking.
Consider that if we delayed democratic gains, we would not only have to deal with the external (to Iraq) political consequences, from the “No blood for oil” crowd to the “Americans are imperialists” crowd (Oh wait, those are often the same people) we would be completely responsible for maintaining order in Iraq, either directly or via a highly Baathized military.
I find it difficult, under such circumstances, to see how this would prevent the development of insurgencies and militias, especially given that such developments would be very Sunni-centric, giving the Shites and Kurds (who live in relative security now) many reasons to be uncooperative in a violent way.
The problem is not that we chose to push democracy, the problem is that we have not figured out how to create security.
I’ve long been of the mind that once the Iraqi central government is strong enough that the insurgency and militias will quell, because the Iraqi central government will be free to act in a way that we can not, because of political considerations. Shouldn’t that government be at least minimally steeped in democractic precedent, and have at least in part its authority dependent on the support of the electorate? These are no guarantees, but they are better than the “realist” alternative, which is a measured retreat to the days of authoritarian rule.
ME: Maybe. It’s certainly possible that we would be in only a different version of the same mess had we gone a delay-democracy route.