Are we succeeding in Iraq? Look no further than the front page of your daily newspaper. What had been a steady barrage of bad news has now slowed to a trickle.
Our military’s success on the ground is changing public expectations as well. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that most Americans (53 percent) now think “the U.S. will ultimately succeed in achieving its goals” in Iraq. That’s up from 42 percent in the fall of 2007.
Why the improvement? We can thank the “surge.”
A little more than a year ago President Bush announced he would be sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. They deployed over the course of several months, and were all in country by June. It was a bold decision. His party suffered a humiliating defeat in the mid-term elections, and the Iraq Study Group had recommended a troop withdrawal. Plus, opinion polls showed the public had soured on the war.
Still, more American troops flowed into Iraq under a new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, with a new counterinsurgency strategy that puts a premium on protecting Iraqi civilians and dispersing U.S. troops more widely to create areas of security. The results have been breathtaking.
In December 2006, there had been more than 1,600 sectarian killings in Iraq. Within six months that number had been more than cut in half. Before the surge, Anbar province was under al Qaeda’s control. “We haven’t been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that’s where wars are won and lost,” one Army officer said in the fall of 2006.
That, too, turned around in just a few months. “I think, in that area, we have turned the corner,” Marine Gen. James Conway told reporters after visiting Anbar in April 2007, barely three months into the surge.
Things turned around fast because the surge convinced many of Iraq’s Sunnis to stop fighting the Iraqi government and join us in fighting al Qaeda.
Now, al Qaeda in Iraq has been decimated as a fighting force. Iraq’s interior ministry announced late last year that three quarters of its terrorist network had been destroyed. But all this progress is, as yet, fragile.