A source of mine whom I've learned to trust as an honest observer has some interesting things to say about what's going on in Iraq:
I come away with a very different impression from the one I had in March and April. I am impressed with Casey, Khalilzad and the new Iraqi PM. An earnest effort is being undertaken to reconcile key Sunni groups and to eliminate the most virulent Sunni opposition. As for Zarqawi, they all recognize the essential silliness of portraying him as the embodiment of the opposition, but given the resources the US has poured into this massive psyops, their feeling is: why not get a little boost out of it themselves? Hence the claim that it's the end of al Qaeda in Iraq, and the out-of-perspective presentation of al Qaeda's role in the insurgency. The added benefit for them is to put the onus of the insurgency on foreign elements and not the Sunnis they are attempting to reconcile. So: misleading, but very sound politics.
The real focus is on the Sunnis, and on political concessions that will get them to buy into the government. This is being pursued with a classic carrot and stick approach - a military clean-up coupled with an offer of accommodation. It is at least clear that there is no commitment to do it in place now. The new PM is a very clever cookie; he's already proven himself a far more adroit political leader than either of his predecessors. That's cause for optimism, but the realist will say he has a very long way to go just to stabilize things.
Yes, but we seem to have turned a little corner, in as much as the administration is now dealing with reality, rather than fantasy, and Maliki, as I've noted, seems to be the first able national politician Iraq has had in decades. Rumsfeld and Cheney remain, of course, and they're massive obstacles to progress. They don't get how the Gitmo gulag undermines everything we're trying to do in the Middle East; and they never will. I'm told that the Gitmo suicides are routinely placed in quote marks in the Arab press. The damage the torture policy has done for America's allied support in Europe is also incalculable. This is a long war; and we have to keep the moral high-ground. But despite the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis of brutal incompetence, Casey, Khalilzad, Rice and Maliki are grown-ups. They're slowly trying to gain ground. Merkel and Blair are helping. At this point, the debate in Washington needs to be less about domestic politics and more about how to win on the ground. Fat chance, of course.