After We've Gone

A reader writes:

We've been hearing for a while about the Sunni tribes in Anbar turning against al-Qaeda. But we've also been hearing, for practically ever, that if we leave Iraq it will become an al-Qaeda base.

Okay, which part of Iraq is al-Qaeda likely to take over, if we leave?  It seems doubtful that Shia regions will host them:  al-Qaeda considers the Shia apostates, and has been busily killing them. The Kurds probably won't shelter al-Qaeda, either: US patronage seems to be all the Kurds have going for them. As for the Sunni in Anbar: are they actually fed up with al-Qaeda, or do they merely see us as a more reliable ally against the Shia?  If the latter, does the Anbaris' widely touted change of allegiance really represent "progress"?

My sense is that the Anbar tribes are both repelled by al Qaeda's excesses (ably chronicled here by Michael Yon) and see the US as a decent short-term ally in their eternal war with the Shia. So they're worth backing ... for a while. I've come to believe that the larger attempt to create a viable, normal state out of post-Saddam Iraq is a mug's game. Only a serious imperial power could do it - with sufficient troop levels (close to three times what we have available) and Saddam-levels of brutality. Our options are therefore now limited to the old enemy-of-my-enemy game. Mercifully, this is the Middle East, and so the supply of temporary, untrustworthy enemies of our enemies is close to endless. We should get out of Iraq central and try and play a smart game of picking the enemies-of-our-enemies-du-jour. Of course, a smart game requires another administration and another president. And you lose a war with the president you have, not the president you might like. Oh, and don't blame me. I endorsed the other guy.