You need a scorecard to keep track of all the reports coming out on Iraq in the next two weeks -- one from the Government Accountability Office, one from retired Marine Corps General Jim Jones, one from the Pentagon, one from the White House, and the Congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker. The first two have already leaked. One said, in essence, the surge is not working, having failed to meet 15 of 18 benchmarks established as measures of progress; the other said the Iraqi police are so corrupt and ridden by sectarian loyalties that the entire unit should be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch. Those were both outside reports. Now it's the administration's turn.
The reports from the Pentagon, the battlefield and the White House will almost certainly portray the surge as a success. That's what President Bush called it in an interview with Japanese television. The Pentagon believes it has broken the cycle of violence in Iraq, and there are a lot of statistics to support that -- decrease in American casualties, in roadside bombs, in car bombs, in sectarian killings; increase in numbers of al Qaida killed or captured, weapons caches discovered, tips from the local population. The only negative trend cited by military officers is a continuing increase in the number of sophistcated roadside bombs smuggled in from Iran and the number of mortar and rocket attacks using Iranian weapons and training.
The surge is working. Now what do we do? Militarily, it's a no-brainer -- U.S. troops have seized the momentum and they should continue to exploit it. That means continuing the surge until next April when the first of the five brigades sent in as part of the surge will have completed their 15 month tour. But Sen. John Warner and a host of Democrats want troops to start coming out in December. There are some good arguments for that -- prove to the Iraqis that the U.S. really doesn't want to hold Iraq in perpetuity, convince the Iraqi government that American troops are not going to prop it up indefinitely. When you stop to think about it, there's really not much difference between the two positions -- whether U.S. troops start withdrawing in December or in April comes down to an argument over five months in a five year war.
The President can win that argument. Just last month when respected Republicans like Richard Lugar and Pete Domenici were saying we needed a change of course, you couldn't say that. But the surge and the progress it is making have changed that. The purpose of the surge was to buy the Iraqi government some space in which to enact political reconciliation. That hasn't happened yet, but it does seem to have bought President bush some space in which to continue the surge. But that doesn't mean the surge has succeeded. We won't know that until we see whether the Iraqi government can sustain the progress once American troops start to leave.