"The operation was a success, but the prognosis of the patient is guarded."
That statement sums up the marathon testimony that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker gave on Capitol Hill this week.
The military operation, by a number of objective measures, has been a success. Since the surge went into effect, incidents of ethno-sectarian violence and deaths are down, the number of weapons caches found and cleared is up, IED explosions and car bombings are down, and the number of Al Qaeda leaders captured or killed is up. But the principal political objective which was to be served by the military operation has not been achieved.
The surge was calculated to create a climate which would allow the nascent Iraqi government to develop political solutions to the ethnic and religious tensions that divide the country. Precious little progress has been made in that department, however. Deep divisions remain over how to share power and divide resources among the various factions—Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. These tensions are old and have produced conflicts for thousands of years. What is new is the notion that the parties involved should exchange violent means for peaceful ones because we say so.
Make no mistake about it. It was not our moral suasion or clever negotiating skills that produced what is likely only a temporary lull in ethno-sectarian violence in Iraq. The improvement that the country is experiencing is principally the result of the blood and sweat that American troops have given to achieve it.
The irony is that, even as American military and diplomatic officials are urging the Iraqis to forge a government that is united, our own government is deeply divided over the current state of play and the strategies and tactics necessary to stabilize Iraq and protect America's national security interests. Democrats, in large measure, reject the notion that the picture is improving in Iraq. They believe we are bogged down and that staying the present course will only make things worse. By contrast, the view of most Republicans is summed up by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) who declared, "Some folks are so invested in failure, that they can't recognize success when it's staring them in the face." Here in the States, no less than in Iraq, partisanship colors our thinking and politics provides the hue.