And common sense tells us one other thing. If we, as Americans, were to find our country suddenly occupied by a foreign power, and said foreign power were to have no interest in our rights as citizens, and seemed incapable and/or unwilling to protect us from the "lawless" elements, and occasionally killed our citizens for no apparent reason (and never seemed to suffer any consequences for it), what would the reaction of the American citizenry be? Three of the most obvious options would be:
1. Some would try to just get along and make a living.Does this sound like any country that you can think of?
2. Some (many) would fight back against the invaders, who would be the visible target for their wrath.
3. Some would start killing for little or no reason, and set up their own little fiefdoms, violently removing any opposition.
Every time an American troop shoots an Iraqi, that's one more death to inflame public opinion against us.
Every time American troops break into a house, the neighbors don't say "Oh, that must have been an insurgent." They think "Oh, the American's have broken into another house again. I wonder if anyone was killed." (And, of course, to a certain extent, "I wonder if there's anything in there I need?")
Every time an American convoy runs over a goat, drives through a planted field, or even takes a turn too wide and damages a building/a car/a storefront, the average Iraqi only sees another of the few things of value that they own getting destroyed by the Americans.
And I can't imagine that the American compounds, with their own generators and water supply, make the average Iraqi (who has neither on a regular basis) particularly cheerful.
We do more harm than good by being there. We do considerably more harm than good by doing "peacekeeping" missions.
Pulling out completely may or may not be a good idea. But at the very least, we need to pull all of our forces inside the embassy grounds and seal it up. No shooting unless we are shot at. (I would also recommend a building outside of city limits, so that we can set up an established 100m "dead zone," clearly delineated with concertina wire and signs in Arabic.)
The best thing we can do to improve our image among the Iraqis would be to stop killing the Iraqis!!
Then, having done that, we let the Iraqi government dig itself out of its hole. If they don't have the First Armored Cavalry charging in to blow the crap out of the "enemy," I suspect that they'll have a much easier time seeing the sense in compromise. In finding a diplomatic solution rather than running in, guns blazing.
Or maybe they'll all kill each other, and the survivors will set up a functional government. Either way, they're in the middle of a civil war with overtones of ethnic/religious cleansing, and there isn't a damned thing we can do about that.
Bush's latest excuse for why we can't leave Iraq is that the terrorists would get all the oil. Which probably makes sense in the alternate reality that he lives in, but not here on earth. Once we leave Iraq, the locals won't have a lot of use for al Qaeda, and that organization will disappear faster than it came into being. One way or another.
By the way, those mercenary troops we call "contract security" (remember them? Blackwater? Custer Battles?) — they're only making things worse. We tell every American company to pull up stakes and get the fuck out, because we won't be saving their stupid butts. Anybody who stays is subject to Iraqi law.
Yes, it might be nice if we kept a presence there. A similar presence to what we have in most other countries. We call it an embassy, it's run by the State Department, and its purpose is to provide access to diplomatic channels.
We ask the neighboring countries (you know, the ones the Iraqis don't hate quite as much as us) to try to provide diplomatic solutions. We might set up some system of border security, to keep armed insurgents from other countries (yes, those same other countries mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph) from going in and inflaming the situation. We provide medical supplies and food as aid (preferably without actually delivering the stuff and allowing our forces to get shot at), and we let them settle it. Once we aren't there stirring up bigger problems, they have a much better chance of doing just that.
We also openly announce that we are doing this very thing, and why. We might even consider turning to the United Nations, to see if any of them have any ideas on how to fix the country we broke.
As long as the bull remains in the china shop, things will continue to be broken.