As David Ignatius tells us that is a question that none other than General David Petraeus asked in March of 2003. Since then we have had a number of reasons for the war and alleged happy endings. The first of course was the elimination of the threat of Saddam's WMD. Of course as it turned out that was the easiest one - he didn't have any. Then of course there was the promise of a Jeffersonian Democracy in Iraq. A strange promise from an administration that seems opposed to a Jeffersonian Democracy here at home but then that one really didn't work out anyway. The happy endings have continually become a little less happy with each move of the goal posts. The Jeffersonian Democracy morphed into a stable and centralized Iraq - kind of like what we had when we invaded. Well the stabilized and centralized part hasn't worked out either so we are at plan A3 or is it A4. As a loyal member of the DC cocktail weeny circuit Ignatius is praising the new plan A.
This bottom-up style of Petraeus and his group represents a decisive break with the cocksure, top-down ethos of Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon -- and with a military leadership that bought into Rumsfeld's idea that technology had transformed the nature of warfare itself. Nonsense, said the colonels who advised Petraeus, many of whom, like him, are on their third tours in Iraq. They have learned the hard way to be skeptical of big ideas."Local solutions are better than no solutions"; I heard Tom Ricks, the military reporter from Ignatius' own paper on NPR today who said it simply isn't so. The "bottom up" - "local solutions' are nothing more than the US undermining the central government and arming both sides of an enhanced civil war. This is not success but an admission of failure and an attempt to stall. All part of Bush's plan to make the next administration clean up the mess he has made.
Petraeus and his team understand, too, that this war is about people -- and helping them one by one to break the cycle of intimidation. When I asked Col. H.R. McMaster, a key Petraeus adviser, to name a turning point in Anbar, he cited the day in February when al-Qaeda deposited at a Ramadi hospital an ice chest containing the severed heads of the children of several sheiks who had been cooperating with the United States. Rather than submitting to this barbarous act, the enraged sheiks deepened their alliance with the U.S. military.
We need to be honest about what's happening now in Iraq: Local solutions are better than no solutions; tribal power is better than terrorist intimidation; pop-ups can be better than the preplanned models. But Petraeus's ad hoc, ground-up security framework is not the same thing as stabilizing the country. In the time remaining, he has to pull things together as best he can -- connect local successes to provincial and national institutions; extend the Sunni rebellion against extremists into the Shiite regions; break the control that Shiite militias exert over the Interior Ministry and the police.