If you read only one article today, it ought to be Fareed Zakaria's essay on how to keep Iraq from plunging further into chaos. Zakaria doesn't downplay the achievements of the war - Saddam is gone, the Kurds are building a decent society, Arab politicians are grappling with concepts of democracy - but he recognizes that everything will be lost unless there's a drastic change of course.
Consider the parallels, he says, with another unpopular conflict. No, not Vietnam:
For Americans, the Korean War was not a defeat—the United States had gathered a coalition to resist aggression—but it was certainly not a victory. After three years of fighting and 4 million dead, Korea remained divided—the North a communist bulwark, the South itself turning into a nasty dictatorship... Something like the close of the Korean War is, frankly, the best we can hope for in Iraq now.
But that doesn't mean all coalition troops should head home. If that were to happen, the consequences would be devastating. We are, after all, dealing with a state in meltdown:
The most revealing statistic about Iraq is not the spiraling death toll but the unemployment rate, which is conservatively estimated to be around 30 to 40 percent, and has not moved much in the past two years. Given that conditions are almost normal in the Kurdish north, that means the rest of the country has an unemployment rate closer to 50 percent. Whatever we have been doing in Iraq, it is not translating into peace, normalcy and jobs. In parts of the Sunni Triangle, reports suggest that unemployment is more than 70 percent. If you think that Iraq's tumult is a product of its culture, religion and history, ask yourself what the United States would look like after three years of 50 percent unemployment.
As for improving security, here's Zakaria's main suggestion:
The United States should begin drawing down its troop levels, starting in January 2007. In one year, we should shrink from the current 144,000 to a total of 60,000 soldiers, some 44,000 of them stationed in four superbases outside Baghdad, Balad, Mosul and Nasi-riya. This would provide a rapid-reaction force that could intervene to secure any of the core interests of the United States when they are threatened.
To preserve the basic security of Iraq and prevent anarchy, U.S. troops must also act as the spine of the new Iraqi Army and police force. American advisers should massively expand their current roles in both organizations, going from the current level of 4,000 Americans to at least 16,000, embedding an American platoon (30 to 40 men) in virtually every Iraqi fighting battalion (600 men).
One more thing. He warns against over-estimating Al-Qaeda's strength in the country, or its popularity:
The fight in places like Anbar is largely not a jihadist crusade against America, but a Sunni struggle for control of the country. The chances of Iraq's being taken over by a Qaeda-style group are non-existent. Some 85 percent of the population (the Shia and Kurds) are violently opposed to such a group. And polls have consistently shown that the vast majority of Sunnis dislike Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The real jihadists in Iraq are a small and unpopular band that relies on terror and violence to gain strength. They do not have heavy weapons—tanks, armored vehicles—and cannot hold territory for long. Were a deal between the Shia and the Sunni to be signed, Al Qaeda would be marginalized within months. In the meantime, U.S. Special Forces could harass and chase Qaeda terrorists just as they do in Afghanistan today.