The WaPo reflects what I've been trying to understand better: the surprising success (after a rocky start) of the Iraqi Army in Basra, the neutralization of the worst parts of the Sadr forces in Sadr City, increasing success in Mosul, and four-year lows in sectarian violence. The caveats are still there and should never be discounted: Sadr's militias are still strong in the shadows, sectarian tensions can still flare up, national reconciliation (with a few recent bright spots) remains elusive, Iran is meddlesome, etc. But that the Maliki government is stronger now than anyone anticipated a few months ago seems beyond doubt. WaPo:
If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq's 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.
The trap Obama must not be caught in is one of excessive pessimism. Conditions now favor expeditious withdrawal more than they did only a few months ago. But the manner of withdrawal, its pace, and its concomitant diplomacy now require a different cast, and may require an even different one next February and March. None of this means that this war was not a mistake; it does suggest it need not in the medium term be a catastrophe. Petraeus deserves the lion's share of the credit; luck and time and the self-defeating nihilism of the Jihadists have helped. But Bush and McCain equally merit points for pursuing the surge, even though the metrics pointed to failure. Obama needs to capitalize on these gains, not dismiss them.
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