Sen. McCain talked about Iraq and how his campaign is tied down by it:
"We can fail in Iraq," McCain said Monday in an Associated Press interview. But, he added: "I see a clear path to success in Iraq." He defined that as fewer casualties and Iraqi troops taking over security to allow U.S. forces to return home. "All of us want out of Iraq, the question is how do we want out of Iraq," he added.
See, but that's inaccurate. Not everybody wants out of Iraq. Everybody does want the fighting to stop, but U.S. strategy largely revolves around our long-standing policy of setting up U.S. bases in strategically useful locations so we can exert control over regional politics by flexing our military muscle. "Global attack", as it's referred to in Air Force doctrine. McCain has said as much, citing our bases in Korea, Germany, and Japan as examples. So to say that he wants "out of Iraq" is misleading, at best.
The point he made which I agree with pertains to how we will be able to get out: Iraqi troops taking responsibility for Iraqi security. The problem we've run into in that regard is that militia members have often infiltrated the Iraqi military. But then, we have our own American gangs infiltrating our military; it hasn't stopped us from doing what we do. So while the issue of militia moles in the Iraqi military is a problem, it needn't be a show-stopper.
If I may be so bold, I'd like to posit a few ideas on how to accelerate this process.
Train the Iraqi military out of country. While training in the area they'll be fighting has obvious advantages, it can create distractions. One of the most effective things about U.S. basic military training is that they isolate us from our friends, family, and the rest of society. They create an environment in which we are completely dependent on each other for support and our military training instructor for survival. He or she controls our meals, when we can go to the bathroom, when we can shower, when we brush our teeth, and when we can speak, sit, stand -- everything. That allows Stockholm Syndrome to set in, and before long, we are intensely loyal not only to one another, but to our erstwhile abusive instructor. If these militia members are in any way able to maintain contact with their militia, that can erode the Stockholm effect. Even with the non-militia members, extended contact with family and friends can erode it. And while, once outside of that training environment, that "loyalty" to their instructor will fade, their loyalty to each other does not fade so easily. Train them in Kuwait or Qatar, which are both similar enough to Iraq, isolate them from their friends and family, and then, after how ever many months it takes them to get them sufficiently trained, rotate them in to replace an American unit. Keep this process rolling and soon the future of Iraq will be in the Iraqis' hands. Mission Accomplished! We won't even have to stage a massive withdrawal, because most of our troops will already be out. In fact, don't tell anyone, but that's exactly what a "phased withdrawal" would be.
Many people have unrealistic expectations on how this would go down. On the right, some expect that we should stay until everything is sunshine and rainbows. I never saw any rainbows over in Iraq, but I did see some large plumes of smoke. The violence will not abate while we are still over there because, in large part, we're the reason for it. It will continue as long as we stay; that's just a fact.
On the left, there are calls to simply cut off funding, as though this is a video game where if just unplug the console, all the problems over there will disappear. Again, that's unrealistic at best, and a callous disregard for the people we'll leave behind at worst. Yes, the violence will continue as long as we stay, but we've torn things up so badly and created such a dependency on our presence in that country that we need to at least try to set the Iraqis up for success. Allowing the Iraqis to steadily take increased control of their own fate will mean the difference between giving them a fish and teaching them to fish. The "cut off the funds" approach amounts to kicking them out of the boat and telling them they'd best learn to swim.
Naturally, there's still a chance that Iraq will devolve into a failed state, even after we've done everything we can to set them up for success. But in the end, we cannot stay forever. At some point, we will need to leave, and the longer we stay, the less likely it will be that they will be able or willing to take ownership of their own nation. As it stands, the U.S. has indicated every intention of maintaining a permanent presence in the country, and the Iraqis have noticed. A sharp shift in that regard will likely do a lot to accelerate the end of the violence. When the signal we send is, "the quicker this goes, the sooner we'll leave", that will provide a huge incentive to cooperate with us.
It's not hopeless; we can still succeed, as Sen. McCain points out, but if we are still in Iraq four years from now, that, in of itself, will represent a collossal failure on our part, just as the current situation does now. Success must be defined by allowing the Iraqis to take ownership of their own country. It's the only real measure we have left.