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America's Moral Duty in Iraq

Sen. John Warner put down a marker.

Four months ago the Virginia Republican said that Congress must "examine very carefully" what it authorized the president to do in 2002 when it authorized military action against Iraq. Warner wondered whether, if there is an "all-out civil war," the president must "come back to the Congress to get further indication of support."

If only Iraq had -- were capable of -- a normal civil war. Its civil war -- fueled by religion and tribal rivalries and leavened by rampant criminality and depravity for its own sake -- does not offer a clear binary choice between regionally based sides that would allow U.S. forces to pick one and help it win.

Today there are many fewer Iraqis than there were three years ago. This is not just, or even primarily, because so many Iraqis, especially from the mobile middle class, have fled the country, taking with them the human capital -- skills, attitudes, mores -- requisite for a successful society. Rather, many -- and more every day -- of those who remain in Iraq no longer think of themselves as Iraqis. It is too dangerous to identify with the nation.

The national government is gossamer, but subgroups are solid. They are in an intensifying melee that has, according to Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, "genocidal stakes." Writing in the National Interest, Biddle says that "the downside risks" for any group that is party to a power-sharing deal include extermination by mass violence from rival groups. America cannot now credibly promise protection commensurate with that risk.

And absent adoption of the McCain policy -- a substantial increase in forces -- America's waning influence on events may derive from the increasing likelihood that the scant protection that American forces now provide will be withdrawn.

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