In his 25-page analysis -- titled "The Tenuous Case for Strategic Patience in Iraq" -- Cordesman wrote that the United States "does not have good options in Iraq and cannot dictate its future, only influence it," and that it is up to the Iraqi government to make strides toward stability. A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops probably would not help matters, he wrote, but if the Iraqis make progress, then Congress and the U.S. military need to work toward gradual troop reductions that reflect realities on the ground.
"The real case for strategic patience . . . is not the high probability of success in most areas, but the reasonable prospect of success in some areas," wrote Cordesman, a scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He added that key elements of the president's troop increase strategy, however, "remain discouraging."
Read Bruce's analysis; he has more knowledge of the situation on the ground than I can offer.
From the proverbial '10,000-foot level' however, the apparent success of the surge has moved us from one threshold question to another. Formerly, the proper question to ask was whether in fact, significant swaths of the country could be made secure enough to enable leaders to work on reconciliation. (Admittedly, it is a nebulous formulation.)
Now the question is, having achieved some semblance of security, does it matter? It may well be that Iraq cannot be governed in its current form. The Sunnis and the Shias may not come together to establish a model that offers each group enough to hold the national government together. There may ultimately be a return to violence -- in the form of either a partition, an ethnic cleansing, a de facto partition, or some other outcome.
Liberals have criticized a few of my posts at the Weekly Standard for suggesting that they are moving the goalposts; they say that the question always was whether reconciliation was possible. That's not true, of course. War critics denied first and foremost that the surge could deliver security. Now that it seems it can, they are shifting the focus -- to an equally important question.