In other words, the United States has become, to a great extent, a bystander. Washington can make whatever guarantees it wants, but the calculus by all sides now is whether they can secure their interests with their own resources. At this point, the United States is growing less and less relevant to the outcome in Iraq, though it remains urgently interested in what that outcome will be.
If we had to guess, we would say that the political arrangement should work, more or less. But we don't have to guess. It is now nearly Memorial Day. The violence in Iraq will surge, but by July 4 there either will be clear signs that the Sunnis are controlling the insurgency -- or there won't. If they are controlling the insurgency, the United States will begin withdrawing troops in earnest. If they are not controlling the insurgency, the United States will begin withdrawing troops in earnest. Regardless of whether the deal holds, the U.S. war in Iraq is going to end: U.S. troops either will not be needed, or will not be useful.
- Saddam Hussein and his sons will no longer pose any threat to the region, and any ruling power in Baghdad will pose fare less of a threat to the region.
- The Syrians, forced to shift forces to confront the United States, lost control over Lebanon.
- Increased media interest in the region forced progress on the Palestinian issue.
- Ghadafi, fearing Libya would be next in line for "regime change", suddenly turned over its WMD program, along with considerable intelligence about weapons development by other nations and groups.
If we left now, the region is far better off than it was in 2001, and certainly 1991. Not perfect by any means, but then again, it never was.
In the end, it may turn out that Iraq was a flawed and unworkable entity, established by arbitrary post-World War I Britain and France, that like Cold War-era Yugoslavia, could only be held together by brute force. Or the three groups that make up Iraq will gradually come to the realization that was reached in Lebanon in recent years - co-existence is a reality, so it may as well be a peaceful and cooperative one.
Who knows? In any event, it is a decision that only the people of Iraq can make.