"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.
The divisions are so great here at home that both sides assume the other is lying and manipulating in order to advance a partisan cause. MoveOn.org provided one example of this when it leveled a preemptive strike in the New York Times accusing General Petraeus of "cooking the books," of being a toady of the Bush Administration, and of being a traitor to his country. Those charges came before the General had even testified and are a classic example of the mindset which says, "Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up." After his testimony, Hillary Clinton accused the General of "the willing suspension of disbelief" about the real facts, a not so subtle way of calling Petraeus a liar.
The unity produced in America by the horrifying events of September 11, 2001 has long since disappeared. In its place has emerged a rancor and cynicism that is all too characteristic of political partisanship and electoral politics. No consensus exists about the way forward. Two unsatisfactory positions have been staked out: Republicans supporting the war without a clear plan and Democrats opposing the war without a unified alternative. Few offer specific plans or goals; they choose instead to resort to slogans such as "we have to finish what we started" or "bring our troops home." While both of these sentiments have a measure of merit, they are merely slogans. They do not provide any solutions. Both parties seem centered on an appeal to public opinion, but because neither party offers much clarity, the public remains divided.
Meanwhile, terrorism remains an ongoing concern. Americans continue to invest blood and treasure because of the threat posed by Al Qaeda and its sympathizers. The terrorists have shown themselves willing to sacrifice their lives to advance their radical agenda while our troops daily give their lives to stop it. The question now is whether the politicians in our government will be willing to sacrifice political gain or subordinate personal ambition in order to come together to eliminate the threat. Among those waiting for an answer are members of the Iraqi Parliament who have more than just politics at stake.