I see four core American interests in Iraq that cannot be abandoned. There must be no Afghan-like Al Qaeda takeover of wide areas. There must be no genocide (say a Shiite sweep against Sunnis). There must be no regional conflagration (for example, a Turkish invasion). And there must be no return to the old order (murderous Stalinist dictatorship).This paragraph shows only that Roger Cohen has refused to actually deal with the lessons of what's actually happened in the last four years** Which of these four core priorities is Cohen willing to sacrifice? Because there's good reason to suspect that they're entirely contradictory: A "Stalinist" Sunni dictatorship may be the only way to prevent a Shia-led genocide, or for that matter a "regional conflagration" for example.
To ensure this, the United States must keep a military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
So which one priority is it that Cohen thinks we should put before all others? He doesn't say, and I don't believe he's got one. This is because the "core American interests" aren't actually important for their substance. What's important, to Roger Cohen and oh so many other people, is that the US keep troops in Iraq. Therefore, it's necessary to invent a reason, or a number of reasons, to keep them there.
Look at Cohen's list: There's little reason to believe that, in the absence of the US occupation, that the Iraqis will tolerate al Qaeda for longer than it takes to dump the bodies in the Tigris. Preventing a Turkish invasion of Iraq should be possible without US troops in Iraq because, uh, the US gives Turkey all of its guns. A Rwanda-style genocide is unlikely, if only because the Sunnis have shown enourmous passion in killing Shia, too. And even if you stipulate that a return to the old order would be bad for America (why? Saddam was a friend, once) that too is unlikely. So no one aspect of Cohen's core interests is actually likely to be threatented. What is likely is that, in each area, the final outcome will be less than what America would prefer.
Is that a sufficient reason to leave 50,000 troops in the firing line as a further irritant and recruiting icon for al Qaeda? Well, if you're a columnist for the New York Times, the answer is a resounding yes!
*For the non-Canadians, blessedly-former Prime Minister Paul Martin famously had about 300 priorities before breakfast.
**One of the most obviously dangerous things about the ingrained stupidity of our media is the failure to actually look at what has happened. Cohen writes several hundred words about the necessity of a small "residual force", the entire time ignoring the fact that the much larger "actual force" in Iraq has totally failed to accomplish the goals he thinks the residual force will. It's as if the last 4 years hadn't happened in Cohen-land.