"The situation in Iraq remains grave," fatalities "remain very high," "the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark," "the Iraqi National Police" are "mostly a disaster," "Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position," it is unclear how much longer we can "wear down our forces in this mission" or how much longer Americans should "keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part," and "once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines."
The rapturous reception of that column by one faction was evidence of the one thing both factions share -- a powerful will to believe, or disbelieve, as their serenity requires. Consider the following from the war-is-irretrievable faction:
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, House majority whip, recently said it would be "a real big problem for us" -- Democrats -- if Petraeus reports substantial progress. Rep. Nancy Boyda, a Kansas Democrat, recently found reports of progress unendurable. She left a hearing of the Armed Services Committee because retired Gen. Jack Keane was saying things Boyda thinks might "further divide this country," such as that Iraq's "schools are open. The markets are teeming with people." Boyda explained: "There is only so much you can take until we in fact had to leave the room for a while ... after so much frustration of having to listen to what we listened to."
In the other faction, there still are those so impervious to experience that they continue to refer to Syria as "lower-hanging fruit." Such metaphors bewitch minds. Low-hanging fruit is plucked, then eaten. What does one nation do when it plucks another? In Iraq, America is in its fifth year of learning the answer.
Petraeus' metrics of success might ignite more arguments than they settle. In America, police drug sweeps often produce metrics of success but dealers soon relocate their operations. If Iraqi security forces have become substantially more competent, some Americans will say U.S. forces can depart; if those security forces have not yet substantially improved, the same people will say U.S. forces must depart. Furthermore, will the security forces' competence ultimately serve the Iraqi state, or a sect?
Petraeus' report will be received in the context of his minimalist definition of the U.S. mission: "Buying time for Iraqis to reconcile." The reconciling, such as it is, will recommence when Iraq's parliament returns from its month-long vacation, come September.
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