Charles Krauthammer

As for federalism, the Kurds are running their own region, the Sunni sheiks in Anbar and elsewhere are exercising not just autonomy but control of their own security, and the southern Shiites are essentially governing themselves, the British having withdrawn in all but name.

Yes, a provincial powers law would be nice because it would allow for provincial elections. We should push hard for it. But we already have effective provincial and tribal autonomy in pivotal regions of the country.

Why is top-down national reconciliation as yet unattainable? Because decades of Saddam's totalitarianism followed by the brutality of the post-invasion insurgency destroyed much of the political infrastructure of the country, causing the Iraqis to revert to the most basic political attachment -- tribe and locality. Gen. David Petraeus' genius has been to adapt American strategy to capitalize on that development, encouraging the emergence of and allying ourselves with tribal and provincial leaders -- without waiting for cosmic national deliverance from the newly constructed and still dysfunctional constitutional apparatus in Baghdad.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is in disarray, the Sunni insurgency in decline, the Shiite militias quiescent, the capital city reviving. Are we now to reverse course and abandon all this because parliament cannot ratify the reconciliation already occurring on the ground?

Do the critics forget their own arguments about the irrelevance of formal political benchmarks? The transfer of power in 2004. The two elections in 2005. The ratification of the constitution. Those were all supposed to be turning points to pacify the country and bring stability -- all blown to smithereens by the Samarra bombing in February 2006, which precipitated an orgy of sectarian violence and a descent into civil war.

So, just as we have learned this hard lesson of the disconnect between political benchmarks and real stability, the critics now claim the reverse -- that benchmarks are what really count.

This is to fundamentally mistake ends and means. The benchmarks would be a wonderful shortcut to success in Iraq. But it is folly to abandon the pursuit of that success when a different route, more arduous but still doable, is at hand and demonstrably working.


Charles Krauthammer

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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