There are certain lessons one hopes we already have learned from the time, money and lives we spent in Iraq. The most important ones are these:
-- The United States can achieve almost any short-term military goal in that nation with a short-term commitment of military force. We're just that powerful.
-- We can achieve certain medium-term goals with a medium-term commitment. We were not able to make the place entirely peaceful and operational and democratic while we were there, but, by the standards of the region, it, at times, was fairly orderly and peaceful.
-- We cannot achieve any permanent goal in Iraq without a permanent commitment. Even after more than 10 years of purposeful work in the country, things fell apart pretty quickly after U.S. forces left. We didn't fundamentally change anything. We just kept people from killing each other and launching full-out civil wars for a period. Now that the United States is not preventing a sectarian civil war, we're likely going to see one.
With the understanding that the American public does not support a perpetual commitment to controlling and overseeing Iraq, there is no justification for even the slightest U.S. military involvement there now.
We have no meaningful short-term military goals in Iraq. We have no long-term goals that could be achieved with a short-term commitment. We have no interest in a long-term commitment.
The conclusion is simplicity itself. Leave it alone.
It's tempting for me to see the lives lost there and the money spent as reasons to get involved again, but that's an emotional response that must be rejected. In poker, when you are considering whether to call a bet, the issues are what you stand to win and what you are considering risking. The money you've already thrown into the pot doesn't matter at all.
The lives we've lost are gone. The money is gone. The only issue is what we stand to gain or lose by our current and future actions.
In Iraq today, we're seeing a weak government and military on the run and the potential of sectarian power-grabbing by Sunnis opposed to the government, Shia militia opposed to those Sunnis, and Kurdish fighters with a set of goals and concerns separate from the Sunni-Shia confrontation.
We have the neoconservative leftovers from Republican administrations pounding the war drums. We have a president who said on Thursday that Iraq is going to need more help, and he's not ruling out anything because the United States has a stake in the conflict.
The United States doesn't actually have a stake, or at least not one that could be served by sending in bombers or drones or troops.
It may be too much to ask that we remember every lesson we learned in Iraq and carry each one forward into every decision. But we should at least be able to remember those lessons for a couple of years and apply them to the same nation where we discovered them.