Tim Ash is on a roll (and not in a good way):

Looking back over a quarter of a century of chronicling current affairs, I cannot recall a more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster.

I’m hardly banging the drum for intervention in any other places, but who actually thinks that the mess in Iraq is a more “comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster” than the nightmares that Congo, Sudan and Zimbabwe have been over the last five to ten years?  Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, now essentially produces no crops thanks to the insane land-grabbing ways of ZANU-PF and friends.  After wiping out four million people through violence and disease, the two Congo Wars continue to have significant aftershocks.  Those have been man-made disasters on a grander scale, partaking of a kind of irrationality that is difficult to equal.  We do not notice them, because we do not even pretend to care about central and southern Africa the way that some of us pretend to care about Darfur.  Then there is Darfur, where the mass killing and refugee crisis together constitute a “more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster” than what has happened in Iraq, and its effects have spread to some of Sudan’s neighbours.  This is not to say that the Iraq war is not an appalling waste or that it will have calamitous effects for years to come, but this is to say that it is still not, in fact, the worst thing that has happened in the last 25 years.  Unlike those others, however, the geniuses in Washington can look at the Iraq disaster and say, “We did that!”

It is my view that the same kind of hysteria that originally made Iraq into the most threatening foe has now started to transform itself into a new hysteria.  This new hysteria claims that the ending of the Iraq war will become the source of the most calamitous destruction and chaos, an unparalleled disaster, just as before the old hysteria caused people to think that starting the war would usher in a new era of freedom and wonder throughout the region (I exaggerate only slightly). 

Both views rely on the assumption, which continues to go unexplained and unproven, that Iraq is extremely geopolitically significant and political events in Iraq will have tremendous significance for the wider region and the world.  If that were the case, Baathism should have spread like wildfire and the Gulf War should have triggered regional bloodletting on a massive scale.  In the event, the first never happened and the bloody aftermath of the Gulf War was contained within Iraq.  It seems to me that Americans on both sides of the debate frequently fall into the habit of thinking that Iraq is really important in one way or another, since this makes our government’s obsession with the place over the last 17 years make a little more sense, which blinds us to its relative unimportance–both to our country and to the rest of the world.  To the extent that Iraq has become geopolitically significant, it is because Washington has been focusing so much of its energy and attention on it.  Other major powers, with perhaps the exception of Britain, do not imagine that the world revolves around Iraq and they never regarded the old regime as some singularly world-threatening force.  Perhaps it is time for Washington to walk away.    

Consider the list of consequences Ash cites to demonstrate his claim that it is the ”most comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster” that he can remember.  He begins:

Besides the effective destruction of the Iraqi state, these include the revitalizing of militant Islamism and enhancement of the international appeal of the Al Qaeda brand; the eruption, for the first time in modern history, of internecine war between Sunni and Shiite, “a trend that reverberates in other states of mixed confessional composition”

Every one of these things has already taken place or is taking place right now, well before the war has come to an end and Americans have gone home (which once again forces me to ask why we need to remain).  The Iraqi state in any meaningful sense was destroyed and/or disbanded in 2003.  The ramshackle Iraqi government that attempts to fill the void is about as much of a “state” as the Federal Government of Somalia (the Maliki government has nicer office buildings, though).  “Militant Islamism” and the Al Qaeda “brand” have already been revitalised and enhanced respectively.  That’s what was bound to happen when you destroy a secular state in the Islamic world and occupy a Muslim country.  The latter danger–the enhancement of Al Qaeda’s “brand”–is still somewhat within our control.  It may be the case that withdrawal will at least diminish the appeal of said “brand” by depriving Al Qaeda of one of its major rationales for its propaganda and recruiting.  The internecine war is, of course, already here.  You can argue that it may get worse, at least until one side or the other wins pretty decisively, but the conflict has already “erupted.”  (Also, depending on your definition of “modern history,” this statement isn’t accurate in any case, since conflicts between Sunni and Shi’ite powers did occur with some regularity since the 16th century: these were the wars between the Safavids and Ottomans, which in turn sharpened and politicised the sectarian divide to a much greater degree than before.) 

Ash then finishes the list:

the strengthening of a nuclear-hungry Iran; and a new regional rivalry pitting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

Again, this has already happened.  There is not anything now that can fundamentally change the outcome in which Iran is greatly strengthened (which is we should have rapprochement with Iran).  Washington can choose a path of confrontation, in which it organises a regional concert of powers to oppose Iranian influence as it has been (rather unsuccessfully) trying to do for the past few years, or it can turn things to its advantage by bringing the rising regional power into our orbit.  In fact, the most plausible path towards achieving some measure of stability in Iraq is to have Iran shoulder the responsibility that goes with the influence that Tehran wants to have in Iraq.  Iran wants greater regional power, and Washington wants a way out of Iraq without chaos being the result.  If it is possible to come to some understanding with Tehran, in which Washington “hands off” Iraq to Tehran, both could achieve their immediate goals and many of the worst evils might be limited and contained (though they would probably not be prevented all together).