Nineteen months after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the war in Iraq "lost" and just nine months after Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserted the war has been a "failure" because it had not brought political change leading to reconciliation, it can now be said conclusively that both were wrong.
One of the great military reversals in history is close to achieving victory. That is contributing to stability in Iraq, along with reconciliation between warring factions.
These conclusions are contained in a report compiled by retired General Barry R. McCaffrey after a recent visit to Iraq during which he consulted with Iraqi and American military leaders and diplomats.
McCaffrey, now an adjunct professor of International Affairs at the United States Military Academy at West Point, wrote a memorandum for his academic colleagues. It concludes, "The United States is now clearly in the end game in Iraq to successfully achieve what should be our principle objectives: the withdrawal of the majority of U.S. ground combat forces ... in the coming 36 months; leaving behind an operative civil state and effective Iraqi security forces; an Iraqi state which is not in open civil war among the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds; and an Iraqi nation which is not at war with its six neighboring states."
While adding that the security situation is "still subject to sudden outrage at any moment by al-Qaida in Iraq" or to "degradation because of provocative behavior by the Maliki government," McCaffrey concludes that "the bottom line is a dramatic and growing momentum for economic and security stability, which is unlikely to be reversible."
McCaffrey notes the sharp drop in attacks and casualties in the last two years and praises the "genius of the leadership team of Ambassador Ryan Crocker, General David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates." He credits these three with "turn(ing) around the situation from a bloody disaster under the leadership of Secretary Rumsfeld to a growing situation of security."
While McCaffrey is cautious about the Maliki government, he adds that Maliki "clearly has matured and gained stature as a political leader since he assumed his very dangerous and complex leadership responsibilities." Provisional elections are scheduled for January 2009, district elections for mid-year and national elections sometime next December. McCaffrey says fighting is now more about politics than shooting and bombing and that Americans should "have a sense of empathy for these Iraqi politicians (who) have survived a poisonous Saddam regime and a culture of intrigue and murder from every side."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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