First, cooperate fully in cutting U.S. force levels and in showing Iraq and the region that the U.S. will leave and give up its bases in response to Iraqi demands. The U.S. should not rush out on its own or compromise the legal status of American troops and contractors, but it is better to take risks in cutting U.S. forces more quickly than to resist Iraqi political pressure and give Iran and America’s Iraqi opponents more leverage.
Second, keep up the U.S. effort to encourage Iraqi political accommodation, to build effective Iraqi security forces and support Iraqi efforts to improve governance and Iraq’s economy. Iraq may now need far less U.S. money than in the past, but it clearly still needs as much advisory support as possible. It is time to stop simply talking about “smart” and “soft” power and actually show patience in exercising it. The more the U.S. does to support Iraq without trying to control it, the more influence the U.S. will retain and the more it will do to limit sectarian and ethnic struggles.
Finally, the U.S. should work with Iraq’s neighbors, the United Nations and other states to support Iraqi efforts to enhance its security, get outside aid and encourage development. One must beware of empty calls for regional cooperation and conferences, which will have cosmetic impact at best. Patient U.S. diplomacy with Turkey, Arab states and Europe, in cooperation with the United Nations, can have far more success, do more to moderate Iraq’s internal struggles and show Iraqis the value of U.S. support.