South of here in the rural Sunni area known as the "Triangle of Death," there are 137 tribes and subtribes -- what an officer of the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 10th Mountain Division calls "an archipelago of complex societal islands." We have begun to master them. The tribes have produced thousands of volunteers to police the area, and violence has plummeted. But the story hasn't gotten out. Troops laugh about a reporter who refused to get off an aircraft upon learning that it had alighted in the dreaded Triangle of Death.
That kind of disconnect with press coverage and the debate back home is a constant theme. The Senate recently passed a resolution sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., calling for splitting Iraq in three. A colonel here scoffs that the Senate managed to agree on the one step that basically no one in Iraq wants to take.
President Bush doesn't seem much more relevant. In discussions of what motivates Iraqis, Bush's favorite theme of freedom never comes up. It's always survival, fear, power or pride, or some combination of all of them. Bush has been famously resolute, but one wonders how much -- even after four grueling years -- he truly understands the war on which he has staked his presidency.
Americans here don't talk so much of victory, but of achieving an acceptable outcome and forestalling the catastrophe that failure would bring. The burden for doing that falls, of course, on our troops, who have managed for now to reverse Iraq's downward slide. They might be lonely, but they are brilliant and unbelievably brave.