The Pollack-O'Hanlon op-ed today about Iraq offers one new solid reason for optimism. It's the following:
American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).
If the military is becoming less sectarian, then that's a big deal. Sorry, but count me unconvinced. Pollack's only sources are American advisers and the "high command." Well: they would say that, wouldn't they? Compare Pollack's account with the statement two days ago from the man tasked to actually train the Iraqis:
The new American general in charge of training and equipping Iraq’s security forces said the hardest challenge was finding good leaders free of sectarian loyalties.
"You can't grow a force this fast and have the right number of qualified leaders," Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik told The Associated Press on Saturday. "You can’t do it. This is a problem now, and it will be a problem for a good number of years." General Dubik said nonsectarianism was "much harder" to instill than teaching soldiers how to fight.
So who's right? Pollack's "American advisers" or the general tackling the problem itself?
I get the sense that Pollack has been snowed by a great Pentagon presentation. Or, as Matt notes, is just a sucker for his old friend Petraeus. But even Pollack has to concede this:
In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation or at least accommodation are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines.
And so Pollack and O'Hanlon want to extend the surge into 2008. If that means keeping some forces temporarily in place to help local government emerge in a way that can, at least, impede al Qaeda, then few will disagree. If it means another indefinite commitment of US troops to occupying Iraq in the absence of any viable central government, then the answer must be a firm no. The benchmarks for the surge remain what they always were: has it created the conditions for a national settlement? If it has, there's a reason to stay. If it hasn't, we need to start getting out, in a way that protects, as far as possible, whatever local achievements we have managed to accomplish.