[Speaking of the O'Hanlon and Pollack op-ed] They go on to describe the myriad ways the surge is succeeding on the security front. But in emphasizing this aspect of current operations, they downplay the more critical questions relating to political progress and the ability of Iraq's national government to actually govern. Security is not an end in itself. It is just one component, albeit an important one, of a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Unless it is paired with a successful political strategy that consolidates military gains and translates increased security into support from the Iraqi people, these security improvements will, over time, be irrelevant.Carter does what many are not doing: face the ugly truths, but then concede to the only rational course of action given the circumstances. He fully recognizes that a withdrawal could result in chaos, but nonetheless he ultimately endorses that we must begin our exit.
Truth is elusive in Iraq; it always remains just out of focus. In Iraq you can find evidence on the ground to support just about any conclusion you choose; most visitors arrive, see what they want to see, and go home believing even more strongly in the positions they held before they landed in Iraq. It takes months—perhaps even years—to gain the depth and perspective on Iraq necessary to develop a reasonably objective and balanced understanding of events there. Neither O'Hanlon and Pollack nor conservative scholars like Fred Kagan, the intellectual architect of the current surge, spend nearly enough time in Iraq to understand its shifting, uncertain realities.
O'Hanlon and Pollack admit that "victory" is probably no longer attainable—only some "sustainable stability" that might allow Iraq to keep itself together when U.S. forces eventually depart. But this reveals the fatal flaw in their argument. The lid will remain on the Iraq pot only as long as we are willing to commit to our current troop levels. Reducing troop levels from the current 160,000 to 60,000 or 80,000, and/or transitioning to an "adviser model," will allow the situation to deteriorate out of control, as it did in 2005 when U.S. forces drew down and pulled back from most Iraqi cities.
So, what are we to do? Sadly, as professor Andrew Bacevich writes in this week's New Republic (subscription required), we may be past the point where good deeds can save Iraq:[T]his much is certain: The moment when Americans might have persuaded Iraqis to embrace them as liberators has long since passed. We have failed to make good on too many promises. In our heavy-handed efforts to root out insurgents, we have too frequently mistaken the innocent for the guilty. However inadvertently, we have killed and maimed too many civilians. Sadly, in places like Abu Ghraib and Haditha, we have committed too many crimes. We have just plain screwed up too many times.If it is true that victory, or anything close to it, lies beyond our reach, we can no longer justify the cost of persevering in Iraq. It is time to begin the long march home. (bold added)
Carter emphasizes a key point, that political progress is just as important as military progress. Without advances being made politically, any advances made militarily could be for naught.
Mark Lynch echoes these thoughts.
The point is that the Bush administration itself argues that its new strategy should be judged by the political process, not at the military level. By its own standards it has clearly failed....The administration and its supporters sold the surge on the premise that it would pay its dividends at the level of national Iraqi politics. It hasn't. The Sunnis have left the government, none of the political benchmarks have been met, and they won't be since the Parliament has adjourned until September.Yes, in case you missed it, the Sunni political bloc decided to quit or pull out of the "national unity" government -- a huge setback. Meanwhile, last night Cheney said to Larry King that we were making "significant progress" in Iraq. Earth to Dick....
The question now is what will they try to shift our attention to next to buy more time?