BAGHDAD10AliAl-Saadi:AFP:Getty

Andrew Exum says that Tom Ricks and I are wrong:

[T]here can be no denying that a space has indeed been created for a more or less peaceful political process to take place. Acts of heinous violence still take place in Baghdad, but so too does a relatively peaceful political process. If you want to argue that getting involved in Iraq in the first place was a stupid decision, fine. I agree with you. But trying to argue that the Surge "failed" at this point -- even if Iraq someday descends anew into civil war -- simply isn't a credible option anymore.

Larison counters Exum:

No one claims that the “surge” was ever supposed to “fix all the problems in Iraq’s political process.” However, it was supposed to facilitate political reconciliation, and by Bush’s own standards a plan that did not include political reconciliation on major points of contention would not be a successful one. It was not the critics of the plan who put these measures of success in place–it was the authors of the plan.

It is not "moving the goal-posts", as Exum puts it, to say that the surge failed by the criteria offered in advance by its advocates. No one denies the decline in violence, and the luck and military skill that it took. But the entire point of reducing the violence was to create a space for political reconciliation, which would be the proof of the surge's success, and which would allow the US to leave without a regional and sectarian bloodbath. Such proof does not exist.

Yes, we had multi-sectarian and largely secular political parties in a relatively peaceful election. And this should go into the equation of the surge's tactical successes. But we only had such an election because resolving the legitimacy of many Sunni candidates (now lawmakers) was simply postponed. And the paralysis since suggests that the sectarian divides and distrust remain as deep as ever.

In fact, yesterday in Iraq, dozens were killed by bomb attacks, the central polity seems frozen and unable to construct a government capable of running the security services, al Qaeda has shown its capacity to strike at will, Maliki is completely AWOL, and one lawmaker says of the police and army:

“The security forces have lost direction. They don’t know what will become of them. They are scared they will lose their positions if the government changes. What we need now is a kind of selflessness among all the blocs to quickly form the next government.”

And we have this from Allawi:

“We want a government of partners that is functional, not like the one now that cannot make decisions,” he said, speaking while donating blood for the wounded. “They say they are a national government, but they are not.

My italics. In its critical criterion, providing a non-sectarian space for a non-sectarian national government capable of running the country when the US leaves, the surge has failed - so far. I remain open to the possibility it might yet show it succeeded. But to this date, those who have bet on entropy returning have no reason to withdraw their bleak prognostication. Iraq remains Iraq.

(Photo: Onlookers and rescue teams gather at the scene of a massive blast which targeted a restaurant in the center of Baghdad on April 6, 2010, two days after triple suicide car bombings killed 30 people in the Iraqi capital. Five powerful explosions killed at least five people and wounded 25 others in the Iraqi capital on April 6, a defence ministry official said. The explosions took place in mostly Shiite neighborhoods in the capital, including a suicide bombing at a popular restaurant in Allawi, near Haifa street in central Baghdad, an interior ministry official said. By Ali Al-Saadi/AFP/Getty Images.)

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