LET'S TAKE NEW APPROACH: CREATE THREE IRAQI STATES
There is no simple or perfect answer on how to achieve stability in Iraq. As we pursue the best answer, however, we need to start looking at the question differently.
Instead of trying to force one Iraq upon people who dislike and distrust each other, we should focus our strategies on dividing Iraq into separate states, with each state providing a distinct home to the diverse cultures and religious sects of Iraq. At the same time, we should give the Iraqi people a stake in the success of their country by providing each person with royalties from the country's wealth of oil.
The creation of distinct states - one for the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shiites - would form a confederation that allows each group to operate their local affairs in a manner that best suits its people, religious beliefs and culture, and goals for the future. These states would provide representation to a national government that would provide a defense for all of Iraq and an economic infrastructure.
At the foundation of the economic infrastructure would be a program that gives every Iraqi citizen a piece of the large economic pie that Iraq can build off its oil resources. This provides a powerful incentive for all Iraqis to work for a stable, secure Iraq and protect its resources.
This strategy gives the Iraqi people a place and a stake in their country. And it creates the incentives and motivation for the Iraqi people to rise up and determine their personal and national destiny. Awarding individual oil royalties is a proven model currently used in Alaska, where the citizens of that state receive annual royalties from oil production there.
This three-state strategy brings its own challenges, such as dealing with the largely mixed population of Baghdad, determining a fair division of natural and economic resources between states, and finding a way for three distinct states to act for the common good of Iraq's defense and economy through some sort of national government.
There could be some boundary challenges as well, though the three factions of Iraqi people generally occupy three separate regions of the nation right now - roughly the Kurds in the north, the Sunnis in central Iraq, and the Shiites in the south.
But these are the issues the United States would be better served in devoting our energy to resolving. For any strategy to be successful, it will require the Iraqi people to take a hands-on role in creating stability in their country.
In many ways, core elements of our current approach are akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole. What divides the Iraqi people has existed for centuries. It is deeply rooted in their religious beliefs and has bred generations of violence, which continues to be borne out today, undermining any opportunity for a stable Iraq. It is foolish for us to believe we're going to end these divisions and force peace upon people who do not share our goals.
Common sense - and history - says that you can't force people who hate each other to live together. This, certainly, is a lesson taken quite recently from the former Yugoslavia. It wasn't until the diverse and warring ethnic groups were given their own countries and their own stake in their future that stability became possible for that region.
Likewise, we must give Iraqis a clear stake in their future.
If we want a stable Iraq, we must give Iraqis their own place and their own stake in their country. And two ways to do that are to give the battling factions a home they can call their own and all the Iraqi people an opportunity to benefit from the resources of their nation - powerful incentives for the Iraqis to bring an end to the fighting in their nation.