Robert Kagan wonders whether the "impossible" might actually be happening.
A front-page story in The Post last week suggested that the Bush administration has no backup plan in case the surge in Iraq doesn't work. I wonder if The Post and other newspapers have a backup plan in case it does.
Leading journalists have been reporting for some time that the war was hopeless, a fiasco that could not be salvaged by more troops and a new counterinsurgency strategy. The conventional wisdom in December held that sending more troops was politically impossible after the antiwar tenor of the midterm elections. It was practically impossible because the extra troops didn't exist. Even if the troops did exist, they could not make a difference.
Only time will tell if the encouraging signs, reported here and elsewhere, really last. But if the changes last the then what factor tipped the balance? Even though the number of troops committed to the Surge is relatively small -- so comparatively small it has been pooh-poohed -- it is possible that the enemies were themselves stretched to the breaking point and the additional forces simply began the process of snapping them. Another possibility is that the hidden, cumulative improvements in Coalition capabilities finally came together: the lessons learned by command, growing experience of field officers, the training and mobilization of Iraqi forces, and the pent-up disgust of the population at the men who were terrorizing them. It's possible that Democrats may claim some share of the credit arguing that by threatening to abandon Iraq they forced both the Administration and the Iraqi government to act decisively against militia groups which were previously tolerated. Success has a thousand fathers. Failure is an orphan.
If the Baghdad security plan works it will be an important step, but the challenges in Anbar and the Southern Iraq, among others remain to be met. During the recent blogger roundtable with General Caldwell, the impression was conveyed that although initial signs were encouraging there remained a long way to go in the larger scheme of things. So if Baghdad actually turns the corner its greatest dividend may be as a new source of patience to confront the rest of the problems facing Iraq by demonstrating that what was declared "impossible" may be possible after all.