I was hoping to come up with some fascinating commentary to make on Robert Kaplan's take on the "surge" report that's now up on the Atlantic website, but I don't really have an incredibly novel rejoinder to assertions like "It may be no accident that the progress we have seen is at the bottom, since that might be the only place where such progress can even begin to take hold."
To reiterate, though, I believe that the essentially problem in Iraq is disagreement about the basic nature of the Iraqi state. In particular, disagreement between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs about who should control Iraq, and disagreement between Kurds and Arabs about how much control Iraq should have over Kurdistan and how big Kurdistan should be. "Political reconciliation" is the name for the hypothetical process by which critical masses of all three groups might come together to reach an agreement about these key issues. Various figures, including Ryan Crocker, David Petraeus, David Brooks, and now Robert Kaplan are pushing the idea that the "Anbar Awakening" represents a form of "bottom-up reconciliation" that serves as an alternative to reconciliation understood as a agreement between major factional leaders.
The problem here is that the Awakening isn't just bottom-up rather than top-down, but actually on a different subject. Sunni Arabs agreeing to stop fighting American soldiers as a precursor to overthrowing the Shiite-led government and, instead, to accept money and possibly weapons from American soldiers as a precursor to overthrowing the Shiite-led government isn't a close substitute for Sunnis and Shiites reaching an agreement about the nature of the government. Nor is it a tentative first step toward such an agreement. Nor is it progress toward such an agreement.
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