Victor Davis Hanson

The result is that ordinary Iraqis are increasingly willing to participate in local government and civil defense. Such popular engagement from the bottom up offers more hope than the old 2003 idea that a democratically elected government could simply mandate reform top down from their enclaves in the Green Zone.

So we are at yet another turning point in the constantly changing saga of Iraq. On this recent trip to Iraq, I rode on highways that just a few months ago were nearly impossible to navigate without being blown up by improvised explosive devices. Soldiers now train Iraqi security forces as often as they fight terrorists.

But there is also a new sense of urgency on the part of the military that Iraqis must seize this new opportunity before it fades. Unless the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government steps up to reconcile with the Sunni provinces and begins funding social services, the insurgency will only rekindle.

The Iraqi army must be freed up to police its porous borders with Iran and Syria. That's impossible without a national police force inside Iraq's cities that is both competent and law-abiding. So far the police are not quite either.

The Shiite community must appreciate that it has won the political struggle and finally achieved political power commensurate with its numbers. This majority must now take on Shiite death squads and their sympathizers inside the Iraqi government. Otherwise, an intolerant Shiite-run Iraq will either become a pawn of Iran or fight a perpetual war with the country's Sunni provinces.

Meanwhile, the American military, after four years of hard fighting in Iraq, is strained, its equipment wearing out. America's finest citizens, fighting for an idealistic cause that has still not been well explained to the American people, continue to be killed by horrific murderers.

If the unexpectedly good news about the surge has given Gen. Petraeus another six months to improve further the situation, the political debate at home has changed only from "Get out now!" to "Victory still isn't worth the cost in blood and treasure."

Lost in all this confusion over Iraq is the fact that about 160,000 gifted American soldiers are trying to help rebuild an entire civilization socially, politically and economically - and defeat killers in their midst who will murder far beyond Iraq if not stopped.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.