As Obama considers adding yet more troops to the near-decade-long occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq cannot muster sufficient political consensus to organize the elections critical to the departure of 120,000 US troops. The Beltway consensus that Iraq has already been a victory was always more about the Beltway than Iraq, and more about sustaining neo-imperial morale rather than confronting reality. The Beltway doesn't do reality very well. They prefer Palin and "bending the cost curve" and "exit-ramps" and "optics".
So let's confront reality and remember exactly what the Iraq "surge" was designed to achieve when it was launched in 2007. It was designed to create a security environment in which a new Iraqi political settlement could be hammered out between the various sectarian factions. On this critical test, the surge did prevent more chaos and disintegration, largely because of a well-exploited spontaneous shift in the loyalty of several Sunni tribes. But the vital - indeed central - task of ensuring that the minority Sunnis have a real stake in the new Iraq (central because it's the core guarantee that a civil sectarian war won't break out again) has not been accomplished.
In fact, recent events suggest a move backwards as the entropy of the Arab and Muslim world reasserts itself. Sectarian violence is up. Little integration of Sunnis in the largely Shiite "national" military has occurred. Core questions of Sunni representation and central issues of territory - such as the Kurdish-Arab fight over Kirkuk - remain unresolved. Lawmakers who told the Americans they were past sectarianism are stoking it again:
Mr. Hashimi, a Sunni who told me not long ago that Iraq was now ready for historic reconciliation, was widely accused of acting in a purely sectarian way to ensure more votes for his bloc. The Parliament’s Shiite and Kurdish blocs promptly joined forces in last week’s session and, despite intense American lobbying, passed yet another election law that would reduce Sunni seats even more.
To summarize the NYT today:
Adopting legislation to knit the country together; reforming the Constitution; strengthening independent security forces; reconciling Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds all were benchmarks, and all remain partly or wholly unmet, despite the security gains that were supposed to create the space for political progress and thus peace. Instead, Iraqis treat their Constitution like the benchmarks the way they treat what few traffic lights operate here.
“So what?” a Kurdish lawmaker, Mahmoud Othman, said when asked about the risk of holding the election later than the Constitution demands. “Nothing in Iraq is very legitimate.”