There seems little doubt any more that it has dramatically declined in the past couple of months. Quite why is not as clear: a function of shifts in Anbar, and possibly disgust with Shiite militias in some Shiite areas, as well as US troop levels slightly more realistic than in 2003 - 2006. The drop is also facilitated because ethnic cleansing has reduced ethnic friction in some areas. What we may be approaching is a situation in which local opportunism, higher numbers of troops, and terror-fatigue from the local populations may be allowing Iraq's splintered polity to stagger on with less carnage. It's worth remembering, however, that the goal of the surge was to create the conditions for national reconciliation at a political level. That's still the necessary precondition for a more permanent peace. And it's still not there. Worse: If US troops help keep the peace in a partitioned Iraq, and the pressure for movement on Baghdad thereby recedes, it may never be there. This is Sanchez' "nightmare without end." Another word for it is empire. Such empires have ups and downs. They have intermittent insurgencies. And periods of relative calm. But they endure, as will the US occupation.

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