The media has done a fine job of glossing over what I feel to be a very compelling analysis of the situation in Iraq by Robert Gates. In their haste to apply what he calls a "bumper sticker answer to what's going on in Iraq", the media (and many here) have confused a somewhat more complicated set of circumstances with a simple two-party civil war.
"There are essentially four wars going on in Iraq. One is Shia on Shia, principally in the south, the second is sectarian conflict principally in Baghdad, third is the insurgency and fourth is al-Qaida."
And that's not all...we're on the cusp of a war with Iran, who it increasingly appears is actively helping the insurgency, and a war between Kurds and, well, everyone else, according to those who are closely analyzing developments there.
The reason I found this statement so enlightening, is that it answers some pesky questions I had. 1) Where the hell are all of these IED's, etc. coming from. 2) Why is it so hard to get Iraqi's to stand up and defend their country. 3) Why do Iraqi's being trained by the U.S. military eventually go "AWOL" and/or tag along as we do neighborhood sweeps, laughing and playing soldier with one another.
It's been offered that our efforts to further train Iraqi's is basically helping them to fight one another more efficiently, and that aside from being targets for Al Qaeda, we're just kind of 'in the way'. Given the tribal mentality of the country (as reported by everyone from the media, citizens, retired military officials, etc), there can be no sense of 'nationalism' that would bind & unite the Iraqi's against the common threats.
By this measure, it would appear that we've killed dear ol' dad, and left the 14 motherless kids to fend for themselves...looks like they've found his stash of booze, weapons, and porn, and are failing to tire of any of them.
This story is a little different than the one being argued a lot here, and that's significant, because if one assumes that the situation in Iraq is not hopeless - it's just a matter of being persistent through challenging times, withdrawal of our troops is a nearsighted option. When one develops a more in-depth understanding and appreciation of exactly what is going on in Iraq, the reality of the situation becomes much too dark to simply witness with a seemingly futile sense of hope.
I'm largely an optimist, but as a conservative, I'm primarily a realist. If I find an argument to be based on a faulty premise or irrational pessimism/optimism, I have trouble adopting it as my own. Occasionally, I come across something that for whatever reason makes the argument very clear - something I'd missed before, and that in fact changes my mind. This simple sentence by Robert Gates is one of those things.
My head is swimming with all of the possible things that could/should be done so that we can get the hell out of dodge. We can't just up and leave, but we can't continue with the status-quo and expect to be successful. I think the notion of a fostering a long-lived democratic Iraq should probably be off the table for now as a measure of success...there's no point buying your daughter a new red convertible for her birthday if what she really wants is a blue one.