Steve Chapman

Mark Kimmitt, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle Eastern affairs, recently said that if he had to guess the chance that the surge can bring stability, he'd say "maybe it's three in 10, maybe it's 50-50, if we play our cards right." That glum forecast may be too generous, since playing our cards wrong has been the hallmark of the occupation.

The surge, it's easy to forget, was not intended merely to improve security, but to facilitate political progress. But of the various legislative actions Bush demanded of the Iraqi government a year ago, the only one it has passed is a new law to allow former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party back in government.

Even that change was of dubious import, since some Sunnis -- who are supposed to be the chief beneficiaries -- say it's worse than the status quo. But The New York Times reports that some Shiites "hailed it because it would ban members of even the lowest party levels from the most important ministries: justice, interior, defense, finance and foreign."

So this supposed step toward reconciliation may obstruct it yet again. What has been clear in recent months is what was always clear: Iraqis are not ready to make the compromises needed to create a stable, unified nation. And as long as we stay in Iraq, they don't have to.

One key gauge of success for the administration's strategy is whether Iraqis will be able to take over running their own country. By that measure, it's a failure. Iraqi defense minister Abdul Qadir says the government won't be able to take full responsibility for internal security until 2012 -- or to handle outside threats until 2018 or 2020.

What we have achieved in Iraq is not victory but an expensive stalemate that appears to have no end. John McCain, asked how long he is willing to keep American forces in Iraq, replied, "Maybe a hundred years." If that's the goal, we're on the right track.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate