There increasingly seems as if there is no question that violence of all kinds has subsided in Iraq. There's no question in my mind that Petraeus has made a difference - but why he has made a difference, what other factors are in play, and what this means for our long-term strategy are all far less clear. Phillip Carter has some sharp thoughts here:

The situation does present a paradox, however. If the surge is the reason, as the generals claim, we're in trouble, because the surge is about to end. If Iraqi reconciliation and ethnic cleansing get primary credit, and the surge is mostly acting as a catalyst, our inevitable drawdown over the next six months to pre-surge levels may not be catastrophic, because the positive trends result more from Iraqi societal shifts and less from American soldiers brokering the peace. As commanders plan for the 2008 reduction in troops, they must try to reconcile these competing explanations and find a way to sustain the success when there are feweror noAmerican soldiers on the streets.

We may only find out as we withdraw. But my guess is that some neoconservatives will use this success as a reason to continue the occupation indefinitely. And if the Iraqi factions are fine with that, the argument will have more force. The case for empire will expand.

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