That’s our advice to Republicans this week on Iraq. Here’s some of it:
It is folly to dismiss the surge as a failure. It has — unevenly — brought down the number of sectarian killings in Baghdad and the number of civilian casualties around the country. Most important, it has helped turn the tide against al Qaeda in Iraq, as Sunni tribes side with us against the terror group.
Critics of the surge point to increased U.S. casualties and the failure of the central government to meet political “benchmarks” by passing important legislation. The increased casualties are the awful but inevitable result of our increased combat operations, and in no way a sign that the surge isn’t working. The lack of political progress in Baghdad is disappointing, but has to be kept in perspective. The reason we wanted key pieces of legislation to pass was that we thought they would promote reconciliation with the Sunnis and split some of them from the insurgency. That has happened anyway, without the meeting of “benchmarks.”
This is an extremely consequential development. To build on it, the central government will indeed have to share resources equitably with the Sunnis, but that is going to be a difficult step. Critics of the war seem to forget that — at best — this is a country just beginning to step back from the intense sectarian conflict of 2006, and it will take time to heal those wounds. Our role is to provide the security that is a necessary condition for political reconciliation.
In the meantime, we are dealing al Qaeda in Iraq serious blows. Everyone in the American political debate professes to want to fight al Qaeda in Iraq, but now that we are finally doing it effectively Democrats and some Republicans are all but ignoring it. Defeating al Qaeda should be our minimum goal in Iraq no matter what broader policy we choose, whether it is simply a U.S. bugout, a so-called soft partition, or the eventual establishment of a stable, self-sufficient government. If we draw down now, we would give back our hard-won progress against al Qaeda.