We're getting closer to the Petraeus report, and therefore to the next phase of the national debate on Iraq. Let us be clear what our alternatives are. Commitment by America to see things through is one option. The other set of options pursues withdrawal on one set of terms or another, sooner or later, according to one of several plans or sets of guidelines.
Some well-meaning, kindhearted people have described the latter plan as a plan to "end the war." They would like the people of Iraq, at last, to be free to choose a way without domination by America.
Iraq, in Mesopotamia, has a history of invasions that dates to our earliest histories. These predate the development of an oil-based economy by thousands of years. The existence of oil and its commerce has only strengthened the pull of the land. If the Iraqis are to be free to choose their own way, it must be because they are strong enough to keep others out.
They are not yet strong enough even to keep from collapsing under their own weight. Consider this piece called "Falluja's Calm Seen as Fragile if U.S. Leaves." That piece points to the chaos that could erupt in parts of Iraq, currently stabilizing, should we withdraw before we finish. The hinted withdrawal of British forces from Basra shows how quickly the situation can worsen. The Falluja piece posits no foreign invasions: it only considers whether the civil government could survive without the support of America.
There will, however, be foreign invasions. We've just finished talking about Iranian activity within Iraq, and how it is playing at proxy war in an attempt to win political control of Iraq through control of factions in the Shi'ite community. A US withdrawal would remove the only thing that is keeping them from playing a far more open hand.
The Saudis have said openly that they intend to back the Anbar Sunnis in the event of a US withdrawal. They have also at times mused that they would deploy troops to Anbar to defend the Sunnis. They cite openly their fears of Iranian dominance in the Iraqi region. Even were the Iranians not planning it -- not already executing it -- Saudi fears of such an Iranian plan would draw them in behind us.
We have seen reports of diplomatic maneuvers and covert operations to deter Turkey from invading Iraq. Turkey is said to have deployed 140,000 troops to the border. The Kurds have not failed to prepare for the chance.
This isn't a time to debate, again, how we got where we are; it's not the moment to re-fight the question of whether we should be here. It is the time to recognize that we are the only thing standing between Iraq having the space to grow strong and independent, or casting the region into a wider war. We will have to consider Petraeus' report carefully, and look hard at what he suggests. We must also consider the consequences of our choices.