Niall Ferguson's op-ed in yesterday's NYT makes his usual convincing case  that, in the face of America's Catch-22 in Iraq, we should just bleed more. Ferguson would rather that we find a way to send more troops to occupy Iraq, while recognizing that to achieve a comparable civilian-soldier ratio of the British occupation of 1920, we would need to field one million troops.
He closes on the same dark endgame that longtime TomPaine.com writer Robert Dreyfuss foresees in his most recent article in Rolling Stone. Appropriately entitled The Quagmire,  Dreyfuss makes it clear that the Catch-22 is not about to be broken by current American policy or by some enlightened despot rising in Iraq.
Facing that kind of pessimism, perhaps it's time to revise our strategic objectives vis-a-vis Iraq. Now, I know that some of my colleagues would rather focus on what incremental positions progressives can take to start shaping the debate in a way to force the Bush administration toward more progressive principles, but perhaps we need to work on the goal of progressive policy in Iraq first.
America has three choices. We can continue on the present course, essentially waiting to see if one element of our current Catch-22 crumbles on its own—while our forces and the Iraqi people continue to bleed profusely. We can jump ship, drawing down forces gradually and virtually guaranteeing a civil war. Or, we can move toward partition, aiming at three independent states, each more likely to provide an easier transition to stability than we foresee in Iraq as a whole.
Way back in April of 2004, Slate's Tim Noah addressed the topic of partition , concluding that it looked like partition was more and more attractive. That was a year ago. He cited Peter Galbraith, Leslie Gelb and retired colonel Ralph Peters as the main proponents, and I'm starting to buy the logic. Indeed, according to a recent UPI article  , Leslie Gelb just returned this May from another visit to Iraq and is convinced partition is the way to go.
For me, partition is attractive because it creates a moment of complete system reset. Such a massive change creates the political opportunity to restructure the entire operation. For example,
Is such a sea change politically possible? I believe that as long as the situation continues on its current trajectory, the current Iraqi government is being undermined, not strengthened. Sooner or later, one of the various wings of the Iraqi insurgency will succeed in mounting a spectacular or perhaps precision, high-level strike, at which point mass demonstrations could bring down the current government while forcing violent confrontations with a nervous occupation force.
In such a scenario, our hand will be forced. We will be faced with these three choices but with a much stronger deadline. At that point, it would be prudent to have a draft partition plan prepared for discussion with the U.N. Security Council, local and regional stakeholders, and potential troop-contributing states.
Partition may be the only way for America to salvage its reputation and avert a full-on civil war. Domestically, however, it would mean the end of the neoconservative foreign policy nightmare that has been foisted on our nation. Bush has enough chutzpuh to purge the remaining neocons while maintaining that all is going according to plan. If it gets to that point, such an effort would be easier than spinning a full-on civil war.
In Iraq, it would mean a massive U.N. peacekeeping operation in the heart of the Middle East, rather than a massive U.S. military presence there. It would mean a significant number of non-governmental humanitarian groups building up participatory local democracy and the local economy rather than contractors getting paid to hunker down.
But more importantly, it would mean democracy in the Middle East finally trumps oil policy. Partition of Iraq would split the northern and southern oil fields in half, effectively giving the southern fields to the Shi'a the northern fields to the Kurds, and leaving the Sunnis without oil. In reality, that might be the best solution. New development assistance can be conditioned on the Shi'a and the Kurds creating transparent accounting systems for their oil sector, reducing the likelihood of corruption. Sunnis can get to work building a sustainable Arab economy and avoiding the possibility of oil's debilitating effects on democracy.
Of course, it won't be easy, but at least it's not impossible—like maintaining our present course.