In fact, the entire narrative surrounding the surge has changed over the course of the last 12 months. As initially conceived, the surge was intended to make a space for political reconciliation among the Iraqi people that would, in the president’s words, “hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” But after a year in which the Iraqi government has, with the possible exception of the new agreement on de‐Baathification passed over the weekend, failed to enact and implement the crucial political benchmarks spelled out when the president announced his strategy, the advocates of the surge now argue that we cannot withdraw now lest Iraq fall back into chaos.
Our “gains are thrilling but not yet permanent,” McCain and Lieberman intone, and therefore, “it would be a mistake to commit ourselves preemptively” to further troop cuts. In other words, the surge strategy, marketed to the American people as a vehicle for hastening the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, is now being cited as a justification for keeping U.S. troops there indefinitely. Success, once synonymous with withdrawal (remember “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down”?) now means exactly the opposite.
But while such sentiments are widespread inside of the Beltway, the American public at large has proved stubbornly impervious to such talk. Strong majorities, 60 percent or more in some polls, believe that the costs of the war have already exceeded whatever benefits we might derive from it, and they are therefore unlikely to embrace an indefinite military presence that will cost far more. Further evidence that the public’s appetite for a long war has abated can be found in the fact that a majority of Americans still favor withdrawing troops from Iraq according to a fixed timetable, this despite the fact that American casualties have declined sharply over the last few months.
No one disputes that the security situation in Iraq has improved, and our troops deserve much of the credit. They have adapted to a new form of warfare, one that exposes them to greater risk in the short term in the hope that closer contact with the population will win the respect, and ultimately the support, of the Iraqi people against the insurgents. So far, so good. Many Iraqis seem to appreciate the enormous sacrifices and risks that our troops are making on their behalf every day. And there are a number of stories and anecdotes of Iraqis taking charge of security in their towns and neighborhoods.