What's most telling about US General Petraeus' report on Iraq is the pinhole narrowness of its focus. It's cherry picking taken to an extreme with virtually all the negatives swept aside.
It's not that Petraeus doesn't know better, he does. He was one of the principal authors of FM 3-24, the US military's new counterinsurgency field manual. FM 3-24 embodies the lessons of guerrilla warfare literally from the time of Caesar right up to the present. One of Petraeus' own core findings is that you can't wage a counterinsurgency on the cheap. It takes troops, masses of them, simply not to lose. By his own formulae, the US would need well more than 300,000 soldiers in Iraq - almost double the number deployed.
With 300,000 plus soldiers the US might be able to provide enough security to enable a viable Iraqi government to take hold. But there is no viable Iraqi government, only the faltering administration of Nouri al Maliki. Neither Sunni nor Shia have genuine support for Maliki. As for the Kurds, they're just biding their time until the central government either capitulates to their demands (does "sovereignty association" sound familiar?) or they pull out completely.
Even if Petraeus had enough troops - and he doesn't - there's nothing to secure. Petraeus knows it and so does Washington. Which may explain the Bush regime's desperation to keep this flat tire rolling.
Washington needs to find someone fit to rule Iraq. "Fit to rule" means specific things: 1) able to keep the country more or less together; 2) able to deliver the oil law that will hand control of Iraq's only resource of consequence to American companies; 3) able to keep Iraq safely out of the control or undue influence of Iran. What about democracy? You can forget about that, ain't going to happen. Real democracy translates into far too much political power for pro-Iranian/anti-Americans such as Sadr.
Bush/Petraeus have gone into the business of buying time to let the US try to find someone fit to rule and that's increasingly looking like someone who closely resembles the last guy, Saddam Hussein. America is realizing what the Brits learned almost a century ago; when it comes to effectively ruling Iraq what's needed is a strongman, a Sunni strongman. Saddam's Sunni predecessors didn't come to power accidentally. They were the West's "go to" guys from the outset.
But Iraq is a real, fire-breathing dragon. After four years of occupation, with the UN and the international community looking on, with the Muslim world watching even more closely, how do you now abandon the democracy option? You simply abandon the place itself. First you load the dice. Take the Shia leadership down - in Iran and Iraq - and rejuvenate the Sunni leadership. Along the way you have to cut some deal with the Kurds. Once those elements are in place, you pull your forces back into garrison and let the mayhem run its course with a little covert aid here and there as required to ensure a Sunni win.
This all sounds fantastic until you rummage through the alternatives. You're not going to get secular rule from the Shia, ain't gonna happen. Another Shiite theocracy would threaten the entire Middle East oil region (even Saudi Arabia's best oil fields are in areas dominated by their Shia minority).
Bush/Cheney believe in the inevitability of an Iranian nuclear weapon and, therefore, the need for pre-emptive attack and they're looking to gut the whole of Iran's military establishment and infrastructure, not merely its nuclear installations. They can't prevent Iran from coming back in the long run but they can severely cripple it in time for a Sunni takeover of Iraq.
Taking out Iran would sharply curtail Tehran's ability to influence an Iraqi civil war while elevating Washington's influence on the outcome. It might not guarantee a favourable result but it would clearly be America's best chance of getting someone in place who is "fit to rule" by their criteria.
Flanked by Afghanistan to the east and a pro-Washington, even if undemocratic Iraq to the west and an increasingly hostile Saudi Arabia across the Gulf to the south, Iran is largely neutralized, contained. And it's the battle with Iran that America needs to win right now.