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 placeit 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.