Question: What happens when a doctor reaches the wrong diagnosis?
Answer: more likely than not the patient will get the wrong medicine. The wrong medicine probably won’t help the disease, and might make the problem worse.
According to Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, this was exactly the situation in Iraq until very recently. His lecture, Iraq: Status Report and Options, was part of the UC Berkeley lecture series Issues in Foreign Policy after 9/11 .
In his analysis, the United States during its first three years in Iraq followed the standard international treatment for dealing with an ideological (read Marxist/Maoist) insurgency. For this disease, the right medicine is to bring economic development to the population and thus establish legitimacy, and move quickly to establish a popularly elected government.
Unfortunately, the problem in post-invasion Iraq was not an ideological insurgency, but rather an ethnic civil war. In an ethnic civil war, election campaigning is guaranteed to make the situation worse. They exacerbate conflict (“My party will protect you against those nasty Shiites/Sunnis.”) And economic development is not a sufficient means of buying loyalty to the central government if you believe that the central government is in the hands of your enemies.
Instead, the right recipe is to establish a truce between the warring parties, and then introduce peacekeepers into the area to keep the warring parties apart. The irony is that now, just when the warring parties seem to be settling into a truce, the American public is heartily sick of the war in Iraq and unlikely to support ongoing peacekeeping.