Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Failure? Don't think so. This is progress.

"Hear no progress in Iraq, see no progress in Iraq, but most of all speak of no progress in Iraq."

--Sen. Joe Lieberman. 4.8.08

Gen. Petraeus’ report to the Senate on Iraq was a study in contained optimism. Too much has gone wrong in the country since 2003 to allow too much talk of going right. But anyone who looks closely at recent developments in Iraq has to be excited. It’s not just that al Qaeda is so much on the run that our main al Qaeda problem has returned to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas where it all began. No, that’s only part of the story.

The big story of 2008 is Nouri al Maliki’s determination to bring the armed (by Iran) Shiite militia of Muqtada al Sadr under government control. Maliki, by undertaking this action, has placed himself on the side of the U.S., the Sunnis, the Kurds, and all the Shiites who don’t like or who fear Sadr. Maliki’s forces have yet to win. But in the upcoming battle, it helps that not only does Maliki have lots of support, he also doesn’t need to destroy Sadr or defeat his Iranian backers. Maliki only needs to move Sadr away from using armed force, and into the political arena, where Sadr already has support.

We don’t need an Iraq of one mind. We just need to have an Iraq at peace. And that now seems possible.

After just a year, Petraeus is on his way to becoming one of the great generals in U.S. history. Mao Zedong told us that guerrillas move among the people like fish in the sea. Sir Robert Thompson of Malaya taught us that separating guerrillas from the sea—draining the ocean—took a decade or more. Petraeus is discovering you don’t have to drain the ocean at all. You just work harder than the guerrillas do on making the sea accept you. I don’t believe Petraeus himself thought this could happen so quickly. He’s holding down his joy. (“Champagne pushed to the back of the refrigerator.”)

But wow. And rembember who gets the major credit: the Iraqi people.

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