This post is very simple: in it I will propose a solution to the Iraqi problem that makes the most strategic sense. My answer comes straight from a realist perspective.
The answer is this: unleash the boiling civil war in Iraq in a controlled environment and deal with the consequences afterwards. I will now spell this out.
What happens in an uncontrolled civil war
1) That Iraq is in a civil war with the participants divided along religious lines can no longer be questioned.
2) That as soon as American military presence is withdrawn, as American public opinion demands, the civil war will escalate to a full-scale conflict.
3) That the Shiites will win is a very plausible assumption, since they are the majority population, and they have the support of Iran and Syria.
4) That the Kurds will suffer the most, since the Shiite-Sunni conflict will inevitably spread over to Kurdish territories, and because Kurdish rebels are provoking Turkish military excursion into Kurdish territories.
5) That the resulting civil war will have multiple participants–Shiite, Sunni, Kurds, Iran, Syria, and Turkey–all with competing interests.
6) That the most likely outcome of such a full-scale civil war would be a Shiite-dominated majority government that represses Sunni and Kurdish minorities, backed up by Iranian and Syrian influences, resulting in greater influence of two countries who are known sponsors of terrorists and who have explicitly anti-Israeli agendas.
7) That such an outcome represent a serious blow to American strategic interests in the region.
What happens in an controlled civil war?
1) Evacuate all Iraqi civilians who do not wish to participate in the conflict into friendly neighboring countries.
2) Cut off all potential hostile influences by setting up border security. This requires military presence along the Iraq-Iran, Iraq-Syria, Iraq-Turkey, and Iraq-Kurdish borders. In other words, minimize all external influences, and also preventing the civil war from spreading outside.
3) Let the civil war commence and run its course. Provide humanitarian relief when needed. Ensure that no sides obtain weapons of mass destruction.
4) If the initial prediction is correct, then the Shiites will emerge as the victors. At this point, it’s wise to protect the Sunni and Kurdish minorities from extermination and/or repression from the Shiite victors.
5) This will most likely require the tri-partitioning of Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish governments.
6) The new Shiite government will most likely seek alliance with Iran and Syria.
7) The US must then maintain some kind of military presence in the region, building bases in Sunni and Kurdish territories in exchange for protecting them against future military excursions by the Shiites or its allies. Furthermore, the US must maintain some kind of naval presence in the Gulf.
8) If this sounds like containment, it’s because it is. The last thing the US would want is Iran and Syria exerting influence in the region through Iraq. The US must exert its own influence to counter.
9) Hope for the best: maybe after the war the two sides will tentatively reach out for reconciliation. Or maybe the next generation of Iranian political leadership will be willing to negotiate.
What this plan requires America to give up?
1) The assumption that democracy is easily transferrable to the rest of the world.
2) US-Arab relationship will deteriorate in the short to medium-term because of a US military presence in the region. But this is something that must be done if we want to have any kind of strategic interest in the region at all.
Why this solution makes the most sense?
1) Shiite-Sunni reconciliation is very unlikely in the foreseeable future, so it is just a matter of time when the US pulls out, which it most likely will given the direction of public opinion. It’s better to pro-active engineer what will eventually happen, since America can still exert some kind of control.
2) A fragmented Iraq is better than an unified Iraq that represses its minorities and act as a proxy for Iran.
3) A smaller military presence in the region will let the US army do what it does best: small, precise, surgical strikes. The US, under my scenario, will no longer be tasked with managing a civil war, regime-building, or urban warfare. All it does is to act as a deterrence against future aggression. In a case of aggression, the US army can quickly project and stop the aggression.