As American troops withdraw from Iraq, anyone searching for rays of progress amid the country’s miasma of corruption, sectarian strife, and political stalemate might look to the foothills of Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan. There, rising rapidly out of some 400 dusty acres, is a gleaming constellation of glass, steel, and Jerusalem stone that is the new campus of American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). The venture, which now educates some 500 Iraqi students on the American model, is a sign of Iraqi Kurdistan’s evolution toward a modern, flourishing society.
Each president of the United States enters office thinking he will be able to define the agenda and set the course of America’s relations with the rest of the world. And, almost invariably, each confronts crises that are thrust upon him—wars, revolutions, genocides, and deadly confrontations. Neither Woodrow Wilson nor FDR imagined having to plunge America into world war. Truman had to act quickly, and with little preparation, to confront the menace of Soviet expansion at war’s end.
After the peaceful mass uprising that toppled one of the world’s oldest autocracies, it is now possible to imagine the emergence of a genuine democracy in Egypt—the most important country in the Arab world. The very possibility of it marks an historic turning point for the entire region.
The United States is in a quagmire in Iraq because it rushed to war, and then to occupation, without a plan or even a realistic assessment. We must not exit Iraq in the same blind fashion. We need a plan to stabilize Iraq politically before we exit. Any such plan must have numerous military, economic, and political dimensions. But a key feature should be to split up the Sunni Arab insurgency. This insurgency is already deeply divided between secular (nationalist, Baathist) and religious elements and--within the latter--between Islamists focused on Iraq and hardcore utopian revolutionaries (Sal