Girl Outside Shop Adhamiyah

Michael Totten (hit his tip jar) has another fair-minded attempt to assess where Iraq is. On the one hand, it seems clear that al Qaeda has done to itself what it did in Jordan: its very extremism has destroyed its popularity, and so intelligence from the local population has turned against them. The experience of such endless violence has also united some Sunni and Shia. But the pathologies of the culture remain. Money quote from a chat with two American captains:

“Iraq is about to experience a power vacuum,” I said, “when you withdraw from Iraqi cities.”

“Exactly,” he said. “When we leave and transition all of what we do now to the Iraqi security forces, will there be a spike in activity? Absolutely. One hundred percent.”

That stopped me cold. Captain Looney and Captain Boyes are the most optimistic American officers I’ve spoken to recently in Iraq. And they thought the odds of a spike in violence are 100 percent. “You guys are the optimists,” I said. “And yet you think this.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.