Gen. Patraeus' report indicates that the troop surge has been a success. He describes al-Qaeda Iraq as being "off-balance," and that we have gained momentum. He also reports on the dramatic turn-around in Anbar province, where locals have turned against al-Qaeda and have been supporting the American and Iraqi forces. He highlights the severity of the interference by Iran:
"It is increasingly apparent to both Coalition and Iraqi leaders that
Iran...seeks to turn the Iraqi Special Groups into a Hezbollah-like force to
serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition
forces in Iraq."
His recommendations are that we can begin drawing down troops to pre-surge levels, as the security situation allows, and that withdrawing too rapidly would cause great harm to our efforts.
Ambassador Crocker's testimony was equally interesting. He did well to present the current situation in the context of what Iraq was like under Saddam. He highlights the degree to which Saddam's regime had de-constructed Iraqi society - meaning that once he was removed, the Iraqis had no structures in place to immediately begin the process of rebuilding their government. In effect, they had to learn how to govern themselves all over again. This is an important point that I think most Americans, and certainly most of Congress, forget.
Historically, Arabs were used to self government at the tribal level. Before the rise of Islam, power resided with local tribal leaders, and people accepted that and were loyal to the tribe. Even during the early days of the caliphate, tribal leaders and generals of the Arab armies had to be given some latitude to accommodate their independent streak. Saddam's totalitarian regime destroyed this tradition, and it is only now resurfacing.
I think Americans did not have a clear idea of Iraqi identity until now. I think the Iraqis themselves are just beginning to figure it out. Crocker stated that they are having meaningful discussions, across ethnic and sectarian divides, about what kind of government they are going to have, and how power will be divided between the central and provincial governments - in other words, federalism. I told my father-in-law during a conversation we had back in 2004 that we should be encouraging federalism in Iraq. It is heartening to see the Iraqi people examining that route now, because true democratic self-government begins at the local level; whether or not they adopt a federalist principle, at least they are exploring the idea. In a way, that is reminiscent of our own discussions in the early days of the Union about the rights of States and the power of the central government.
Crocker also had much to say regarding benchmarks, which members of Congress have been hanging onto as a means of attacking the Iraqi government, and making a case for withdrawal. The ambassador reports that benchmarks are being met in fact, if not by definition (i.e. the result is being achieved even though the legislation required to meet the benchmark has not yet been passed). Regarding distribution of oil revenues among the provinces, it is being done by the central government, and in a fair manner, despite the lack of formal legislation. The same is true regarding the de-baathification efforts.
There is much more in the reports, and I repeat, they are worth your time to read. The editors at NRO have a similar take; it is worth reading all that they have to say about it as well. In addition, it is certain that Tocqueville's conviction that democratic societies by nature do not encourage the best and the brightest to run for public office. This is made clear by the farcical hearings held by our elected representatives in Congress the past two days. The best and the brightest are the two men facing the inquisition, not the men asking the questions.
As a final note, I'll leave you with some thoughts of an Iraqi about the recent attacks by our Congress on the Maliki government.
Update: Chuck Norris has more that we can learn from history to help us with the current struggle: the Barbary Pirates conflict.