Cliff May

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in Iraq deployed suicide-bombers to mass-murder civilians as a way to stoke sectarian violence. Al-Qaeda calculated – not unreasonably – that Americans would withdraw rather than remain in the crossfire of a civil war.

General Petraeus, the Army’s top counterinsurgency expert, decided it was time for a different approach. He moved troops out of the FOBs and put them into Iraqi cities and villages where they have been providing security for Iraqis – who have shown their appreciation by providing intelligence that spy satellites can’t retrieve.

He is targeting al-Qaeda, as well as the Shia militias trained, funded and equipped by Tehran – their cells, strongholds and bomb factories. And with added troop strength, he has been able to hold the neighborhoods he has cleared.

It also is true that most traditional Iraqi leaders have been repelled by al-Qaeda’s brutality and extremism. Americans, by contrast, have shown the local sheiks respect, while training and partnering with Iraqis -- making it clear they would like nothing better than to see Iraqis take charge of their own security as soon as they are ready.

On top of all that, U.S. soldiers have been doubling as diplomats: helping to reconcile Sunni and Shia tribal groups, and even bringing insurgents – those not affiliated with al-Qaeda or Tehran – into line with the Iraqi government.

This week, General Odierno launched “Operation Phantom Strike,” a new offensive that aims to pursue the al Qaeda terrorists and Iranian-backed militias displaced from their safe havens by this summer’s earlier actions: Operation Phantom Thunder, and Operation Fard al-Qanoon (the Baghdad Security Plan).

Operation Phantom Strike, if it is successful, will mean more “death and destruction” – mostly for America’s sworn enemies. No doubt, the anti-war crowd will both oppose that and pronounce it a failure even before it’s fully underway. But other Americans – if they learn what is really happening in Iraq -- will support the troops. Most will favor giving them the time and resources they need to complete their mission.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.