More on Conway

"Surprisingly," Charles Krauthammer's quotation of General James Conway with regard to turning the corner in al-Anbar province is out of context. In partial defense of Krauthammer, the AP story he must have gotten the quotation from is written in a somewhat confusing manner. Conway is saying specifically that he "was told by numerous American commanders throughout Anbar that the tide had shifted against the extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq when Sunni tribal sheiks who previously opposed U.S. forces decided to start cooperating instead." Their belief is that "the extremists’ key misstep was to interfere with the locals’ black market trading, which al-Qaida co-opted in order to finance itself."

So that's what he's saying -- a specific turn against al-Qaeda. The issue, as Marc Lynch points out here, is that "al-Qaeda" and "the insurgency" are not the same thing. He's writing about a Weekly Standard article, but it applies to Krauthammer/Conway just as well:

The entire piece is constructed around the assumption that the only players are the Coalition, the tribal shaykhs, and "Al-Qaeda" (which is conflated with the whole Sunni insurgency). The turn against "Al-Qaeda" therefore can only be read as a turn in the Coalition's favor. But add in the reality of intra-insurgency politics, and you can immediately see the problem: to the extent that the new insurgency coalition is - as very much appears to be the case - equally dedicated to fighting the Americans as it is to resisting the Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda)'s hegemony, then the whole narrative falls apart. Intentional conflation or ignorance of these intricacies, I do not know... though neither speaks well for the quality of analysis on the part of the Standard's featured expert analysis.

Thus understood, I think this plays much more as an argument for leaving than for staying. It suggests that there's little reason to fear that American departure from Iraq would lead to the creation of an al-Qaeda stronghold in Anbar province that becomes the base for attacks on the USA -- local sentiment there runs both against the United States and against al-Qaeda in Iraq. If we leave, that leaves more time for locals to focus on getting AQ out of their hair.