President Bush’s surprise visit to Anbar province in Iraq , leading him to hold out the possibility -- perhaps reinforced by recent news from Gen. David Petraeus -- that further successes in the security situation inIraq could lead to an unspecified reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, can easily be viewed as a political success, if a qualified one. With an eight-hour visit to a military base and meetings not only with his own chief counselors but with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and representatives of most Iraqi factions, he just might have seized the initiative in the contentiousdebate that is sure to follow reports from Gen. David Petraeus and U.S.ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker later this month.
However, the visit, at which the president rather pointedly prodded Maliki to come up with political progress comparable to the military progress Gen Petraeus and U.S. forces have managed to eke out -- at great cost in American and Iraqi blood and treasure -- pinpointed how disappointing the progress toward the more important goals of political reconciliation – or at least a situation in which Sunni and Shia factions are not actively plotting against one another – has been.
Just my opinion? Here's Admiral Michael Mullen, the president’s nominee to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “Unless the Iraqi government takes advantage of the ‘breathing space’ that U.S. forces are providing, no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference.”
As the great Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz famously put, it, war is politics carried out by different means. Unless political objectives are achieved, military activity can often be little more than killing people and breaking things, as infantry-level soldiers sometimes irreverently put it.
Here's the key issue. Stand-patters say they're afraid there will be a bloodbath in Iraq when the U.S. leaves. Maybe so. But will the chances of such a bloodbath be notably diminished in six months, or a year? What is the U.S. doing to diminish such chances? And how many American lives are we willing to sacrifice to delay an inevitable bloodbath if one is inevitable?