If I set aside my cynicism for the moment, it is fair to observe that "the surge" has resulted in a significant reduction in violence in many areas of Iraq. The testimony of General Petraeus indicates that these successes are fragile. Meanwhile, a similar tactic of relying upon local militias has fallen into disfavor in Afghanistan.
The change in policy perhaps signals a shift in Western attitudes towards the growing ranks of sanctioned tribal armies that perform routine security functions in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The “Sons of Iraq” militia groups, in particular, are a key facet of the U.S. strategy for preventing extremists from taking root in vulnerable Sunni communities.At this point, relying upon the Maliki government to move Iraq toward "national reconciliation" doesn't appear promising. The U.S. is not going to team up with the al-Sadr Brigades. The other leading faction, Sunny and Kurdish, are not going to be placed in charge of the country. Iran appears happy to exploit our conundrum, and appears to have a positive relationship with both the Maliki government and al-Sadr. (And, for that matter, with Ahmed Chalabi.) Are we nearing a point where our "best case scenario" is to allow Iraq to be run by factions closely allied with Iran?
But some military officers have questioned the long-term wisdom of arming sectarian groups whose allegiances are notoriously fickle. "In my mind, the biggest fear is that we can't integrate these guys into the government and into society quick enough," U.S. Army Captain Glen Helberg told the Columbia Journalism Review in February.
NATO officials had the same worry. “Afghanistan has long struggled with warring tribes and warlords,” said U.S. Army Brigadier General Robert Cone, the top coalition training officer, during a March telephone interview. “What we saw was that the effect of paying people to support us when we needed them, despite the positive impact over time, also had the effect of arming people who were not necessarily in line with the [Afghan] government."
I'm willing to take a reduction in violence as a "sign for optimism". But I seen no sign that the Bush Administration has a plan to "strike while the fire is hot." Despite what I observed a couple of days ago, that the proponents of the war are increasingly speaking in terms of years until Iraq is reasonably stable, there is a question of "what happens in the next six months".
I suspect that the Bush Administration is desperately hoping that the relative lull in violence holds, and that the problem can simply be passed off to the next President. Assuming that is true, will we have again missed an opportunity due to Bush Administration incompetence? And if it does not... just what is it that the next President will inherit?