Everybody who is not a part of the let's-leave-Iraq-now-and-to-hell-with-the consequences crowd seems to agree that the key to stabilizing Iraq, so we can prudently bring our troops home, is forging a political reconciliation between Iraq's Shiite-dominated government and its Sunni minority.
The question is what role the U.S. military ought to play in achieving this political aim.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Sen. John McCain explained why he believes the president's planned troop "surge" is the way to go.
"The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish on its own -- impose its rule throughout the country," said McCain. "In bringing greater security to Iraq, and chiefly to Baghdad, our forces would give the government a fighting chance to pursue reconciliation."
In other words, McCain's calculation is: If U.S. forces "impose" the rule of Maliki's Shiite government in Sunni regions, Maliki's Shiite government will magnanimously reconcile with the people in the Sunni regions the U.S. military subdues for it.
One way of evaluating this strategy is to begin with the realization that President Bush is about five times more popular in San Francisco, arguably America's most liberal city, than the Iraqi constitution is in Anbar, Iraq's most Sunni province.
In 2004, Bush won 15.3 percent in San Francisco. In an October 2005 referendum, the Iraqi constitution won just over 3 percent in Anbar.
Although Sunnis boycotted the January 2005 election for the transitional government charged with drafting Iraq's constitution, they turned out massively for the referendum on ratifying the constitution the Shiite-dominated transitional government drafted.
To put it mildly, these Sunnis "sent a message." In Anbar, 96.96 percent voted against the constitution. In predominantly Sunni Salah ad Din province, 81.75 percent voted against it. In the mixed province of Ninewa, 55.01 percent voted against it. In the mixed province of Diyala, 48.73 percent voted against it.
In 12 of Iraq's most heavily Shiite and Kurdish provinces, by contrast, the constitution won at least 94 percent.
All-important Baghdad split 77.7 percent for the constitution, 22.3 percent against.
When compared to attack data published in the November Defense Department report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," these results become almost perfect predictors of violence. Where sizable blocs voted against Iraq's constitution, attacks are numerous. Where they didn't, they aren't.
In Anbar, there were more than 40 attacks per day between Aug. 12 and Nov. 10. In Baghdad, almost 40. In Salah ad Din, 20. In Diyala, about 15. In Ninewa, about 10.