Just this week, Petraeus said that the one thing he needs more than anything else is time. To cut off Petraeus' plan just as it is beginning -- the last surge troops arrived only last month -- on the assumption that we cannot succeed is to declare Petraeus either deluded or dishonorable. Deluded in that, as the best-positioned American in Baghdad, he still believes we can succeed. Or dishonorable in pretending to believe in victory and sending soldiers to die in what he really knows is an already failed strategy.
That's the logic of the wobbly Republicans' position. But rather than lay it on Petraeus, they prefer to lay it on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and point out his government's inability to meet the required political "benchmarks." As a longtime critic of the Maliki government, I agree that it has proved itself incapable of passing laws important for long-term national reconciliation.
But first comes the short term. And right now we have the chance to continue to isolate al-Qaeda and, province by province, deny it the Sunni sea in which it swims. A year ago, it appeared that the only way to win back the Sunnis and neutralize the extremists was with great national compacts about oil and power sharing. But Anbar has unexpectedly shown that even without these constitutional settlements, the insurgency can be neutralized and al-Qaeda defeated at the local and provincial level with a new and robust counterinsurgency strategy.
The costs are heartbreakingly high -- increased American casualties as the enemy is engaged and spectacular suicide bombings designed to terrify Iraqis and demoralize Americans. But the stakes are extremely high as well.
In the long run, agreements on oil, federalism and de-Baathification are crucial for stabilizing Iraq. But their absence at this moment is not a reason to give up in despair, now that we finally have a counterinsurgency strategy in place that is showing success against the one enemy that both critics and supporters of the war maintain must be fought everywhere and at all cost -- al-Qaeda.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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