I don't buy for a minute Fred Kagan's rosy view of the developments in Iraq, but I do buy the central premise of his op-ed today. Whether the surge works or not, it will create a new reality by fall and it is from that reality that we will have to pivot new options. The surge is a genuinely different strategy than that employed for the first four years of the occupation, and it's too soon to judge it. September is a perfectly reasonable moment to reconsider its impact and where to go from there. If the Democrats try to force withdrawal before then, they'll seem (rightly) unsupportive of Petraeus. They should nonetheless be very clear in stating critical, non-binding benchmarks in the appropriations bill, and in September use those specific criteria to judge the surge's success.
That has the added benefit of putting maximal pressure on Maliki this summer. If he won't or cannot deliver on a new oil bill, a reconciliation between the three major groups, and ridding his government of militias, the Democrats will have a clear case to make to Americans. Petraeus, of course, will announce he has been successful in September. What commander would declare himself a failure? So we have to discount that and look for key signs of progress: a measurable decline in Sunni and Qaeda suicide bombings, reduction of sectarian violence, and a feasible plan to relieve the intense moral and psychological toll this war is taking on the troops. In other words: we need to watch and wait this summer. The time for the anti-war Dems and troubled Republicans to draw a line in the sand is September.