The US invasion is a knife in Iraq's chest

I think that this is a pretty good metaphor for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If you get stabbed deeply, sometimes the presence of the knife blade can push cut or broken tissues together and slow down the bleeding; that, along with the certainty of even greater damage as the blade is withdrawn, can be an argument for leaving the knife in place, at least for a while. In the metaphor, the knife is generally left in place until the victim (1) is in the O.R. and is medically stabilized enough for the withdrawal, or (2) dies.

Therefore, as much as it pains me to say it, there could be an argument for American troops (the blade of the knife) to stay in the heart of Iraq. I think there is even an effective way to do it that I'll mention below. However, returning to the metaphor, the issue of how to extract the knife and help the victim to recover is a separate one from the criminal matter, which is that when you stab someone deeply in the chest, you must generally face criminal charges. In the present case, the facts of the invasion would probably lead to manslaughter charges rather than to murder charges, because the goal was not to destroy Iraq (even though that is pretty close to the consequences of the invasion). However, manslaughter is a serious crime, and the perpetuators--the US and its allies--must face the consequences in terms of international war crimes procedures. I personally feel that along with the individuals in the American government who were directly responsible, the American electorate also shares a significant role. I have no idea what kind of punishment would fit the crime, but at the very minimum, I think that a formal admission of wrongdoing and the sincerest apology would be a good start. As for the ringleaders, they should be thrown from public office and spend the rest of their miserable lives in jail.

As for how American forces can stay effectively in Iraq, I go back to a letter I wrote to the New York Times in 2004: more than ever, we need a voter referendum in Iraq. There really is no other way for us to be seen as a legitimate presence there. The government, created by us, cannot legitimize us. Only the people can, in a direct referendum. We should contribute whatever resources are required for a national referendum, but the voting should be monitored by international observers. The question must be: "Should American forces stay in Iraq for one more year?" Part of the basis of the referendum would be that after a year, another referendum would be held with the same question.

If a majority of Iraqis ask us to stay, then, as the perpetuators of the deadly knife blow, we owe them that much. However, our status would be changed for the better: it's one thing to occupy a country by force; it's quite another thing to do so by the specific request of the people. One the other hand, if a majority do not want us to stay, then we of course still would have an obligation to do whatever it takes to help the victim of our attack (i.e., financially, technical advising, etc.), but we must withdraw our blade from her heart as quickly and smoothly as possible.