In many ways, the American experience in Iraq has been defined more by the fantasy dreamed up in Washington, D.C., than by the reality on the ground. That fantasy has included the “purple finger revolution,” which came to symbolize Iraq’s first national election of the post-Saddam era (Iraq still lacks a viable, cohesive government); the much-hyped military “surge” of 2006-2007, which had all the real impact of punching air; and the farcical economic “success” of major oil companies bidding on Iraqi oil exploration rights (orchestrated by an Iraqi Oil Ministry lacking both a governmental structure and legal basis for issuing such bids, given the Iraqi Parliament’s inability to pass an oil law. American politicians, aided and abetted by a fawning mainstream media, have fabricated a fiction aimed at a largely ignorant American public that fails to address the real problems in Iraq. It is in this topsy-turvy world created by political hype and media spin that a president can, with a straight face, announce the withdrawal of American “combat troops” from Iraq, while leaving behind six combat brigades (renamed, but not reorganized) comprising some 50,000 troops to fight and die in “noncombat.”
For all of the political, economic and military investment made in Iraq by the United States, the reality is that the three Iraqi neighbors least consulted by the United States in the buildup to the 2003 invasion have become the most influential players in shaping Iraq’s internal political future and influencing the country’s ultimate regional alignment. These three nations—Turkey, Syria and Iran—continue to work toward an Iraq where the political and economic interests of Shiite, Sunni and Kurds are met in a mutually beneficial manner. The ultimate political makeup of Iraq’s eventual government is no longer something dictated by Washington, but rather negotiated through the offices of Ankara, Damascus and Tehran. The United States, through its exclusionary policies, is no longer viewed as a constructive force on shaping these issues, but rather as an obstacle to be navigated around or ignored. The only viable policy option that exists for the United States in Iraq today is to disengage as gracefully as possible, and leave Iraq’s future in the hands of its people and its neighbors.