Today David Sanger connects the dots and tells us directly that this flurry of similar stories is just what you think it is: a harbinger of yet another attempt to move the goalposts in Iraq.
Bush Shifts Terms for Measuring Progress in IraqThere's an awful lot to say about this beyond the obvious point that this goalpost moving is a pretty desperate attempt to dig up something anything positive to say about political reconciliation in Iraq. For starters, there's the fact that the Anbar strategy is entirely accidental and we don't truly control it. There's the fact that one of the underlying goals of arming the Sunni tribes is a veiled desire to create an armed balance of power between Sunni and Shia that can't possibly be stable. There's the fact that we're encouraging a de facto balkanization of the country. There's the fact that even if this strategy is a good one, we don't have anywhere near enough troops to make it work on a widespread basis. And finally, there's the fact that the Shiite militias simply aren't going to allow this strategy to spread to Baghdad.
With the Democratic-led Congress poised to measure progress in Iraq by focusing on the central government's failure to perform, President Bush is proposing a new gauge, by focusing on new American alliances with the tribes and local groups that Washington once feared would tear the country apart.
That shift in emphasis was implicit in Mr. Bush's decision to bypass Baghdad on his eight-hour trip to Iraq, stopping instead in Anbar Province, once the heart of an anti-American Sunni insurgency. By meeting with tribal leaders who just a year ago were considered the enemy, and who now are fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a president who has unveiled four or five strategies for winning over Iraqis depending on how one counts may now be on the cusp of yet another.
All of these things are worth posts of their own, and I might even get around to writing one or two of them sometime this week. In the meantime, just be aware that this is apparently the new talking point: national reconciliation doesn't matter anymore. Tribal reconciliation is where the action is. We'll let you know how it's going six months from now.