Partitioning the country would be traumatic, so after the election it probably makes sense to make one last effort to hold the place together. Fire Donald Rumsfeld to signal a break with the past. Alter troop rotations so that 30,000 more troops are policing Baghdad.
But if that does not restore order, if Iraqi ministries remain dysfunctional and the national institutions remain sectarian institutions in disguise, then surely it will be time to accede to reality. It will be time to effectively end Iraq, with a remaining fig-leaf central government or not. It will be time to radically diffuse authority down to the only communities that are viable — the clan, tribe or sect.
Mr. Brooks does not explain in his article whether he now believes that it was a mistake for the US to invade and occupy Iraq or if he still thinks it was a noble and worthwhile effort to try to bring democracy to the Iraqis at the point of a gun. It is not clear whether he believes the 3,000 American lives, the 40,000 to 650,000 Iraqi lives (depending on whose estimates you believe) and the billions of dollars of American tax-payer money spent (wasted) was an acceptable price to pay for a plan that (as is now clear to almost everyone) was doomed from the outset.