In an e-mail conversation yesterday:
it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. Pulling out would probably cause melt down in the region, but it may well be heading that way anyway. I think they should stay, having started off on this ill-concieved adventure they should at least try to rectify the situation - but I don't know how and apparently neither do they and in the mean time many, many more people are dying and the situation certainly isn't getting any better... but to pull out now would be devastating to all concerned.
See, this is a problem we've discussed before: what do the insurgents want? Polls have shown that the majority of Iraqis welcomed the invasion and even think things are better now than they were before. The insurgents, damaging as they are, are a minority, and they're not even a coherent minority:
- Some of them, such as the dude who holed up in that siege in the shrine, are transparently just making a power-grab in the upcoming social order.
- He's a world apart from the Iranian-funded trouble-makers who are attempting to destabilize the regime to provide Iran with a way of grabbing territory and bringing Shias into the fold.
- And then there's a (possibly non-existent) faction of 'foreign fighters' allegedly tied to al-Qaeda who are destabilizing the regime explicitly for the purposes of forcing the Americans to withdraw
Group A are relatively benign, and they are probably the majority: they have an interest in enlarging the pie. If the Americans leave there's a chance they could devolve into civil war, but given the way the clerics seemed to be able to shut him down just by saying "stop fighting, dammit" I think that's unlikely. These guys' power rests on religious fervour, and the fairly level-headed clerics have more sway over their followers than they do.
Group C, I believe, are largely a creation of American propaganda. It's useful to say that al-Qaeda militants are behind the insurgency for political reasons, but al-Qaeda was pretty effectively stomped after 9/11; even if there are people in Iraq who claim to be members of al-Qaeda, where are these people getting all their money and firepower? Even if they exist, they're small scale. The Americans are billing these guys as the problem, but I don't buy that.
Group B is where the trouble lies. I'm betting most of the action -- blowing up police stations, sabotaging oil lines, all the really expensive and deadly stuff -- is coming from Iran, not al-Qaeda. These attacks lack the flair for the dramatic and the obvious symbolism that a-Q seem to go for; these attacks are a lot more like guerilla warfare and yet the Iraqis themselves say they don't want anything other than peace. Who's doing all this wanton, deadly damage? In whose interest is it? Well, al-Qaeda of course, but I've explained why I don't think it's them. Iran is the other candidate, and there's been a lot more evidence floating pointing to Iran than a-Q (our good friend Chalabi, the Iranian spy being a HUGE tip-off).
But it seems to be politically impossible to point the finger at Iran for some reason that I'd like explained to me.
So group A are expecting the Americans to leave but are actually just playing the game for their own power while they're around; but I believe they'd rather grab power in a relatively ordered American-controlled framework than have to work much harder for it in a free-for-all following a sudden American withdrawl.
Group C do not exist in sufficient numbers to really care about, but getting the Americans to leave is what they want: the faster the Americans get out of the Middle East the better, as far as these guys are concerned.
Group B are the danger. They want the Americans to leave because then they'll really cause trouble. Civil war is not the danger in Iraq; the danger is that a weakened Iraq will get invaded by an Iran using the instability there as an excuse to go in. And while having an enlargened and emboldened Iran doesn't sound like an especially good idea on the political front given their nuclear ambitions and general hostility towards the Great Satan, the real reason the Americans are never going to back out now is because it would put more than half of the world's oil reserves under direct control of two openly hostile but at least passably legitimate governments (S.A. being the other) with no pretext for another invasion, the result of which would be rocketing oil prices and economic disaster for the West, in particular the USA. If this was a war for oil then it has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
So basically backing out would lead to stability but would seriously weaken the West, and staying in will lead to ever-increasing instability. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, but note that it's us who are damned if we leave, and them who are damned if we stay*. And it's clear who we value more.
Update: Some B/C confusion fixed.