A Moment, But Which Moment?
Freg Kagan calls the President's visit to Anbar the Gettysburg moment of the war in Iraq. I wouldn't go so far, but let's hear what Kagan has to say:
It has been one of the most violent provinces in Iraq, and one of the most dangerous for American soldiers and Marines, until recently. Now it is one of the safest — safe enough for the war cabinet of the United States of America to meet there with the senior leadership of the government of Iraq to discuss strategy. Instead of talking about how to convince the Anbaris that the Sunni will not retake power in Iraq any time soon, Bush, Maliki, Petraeus, Talabani, and Crocker talked about how to get American and Iraqi aid and reconstruction money flowing more rapidly to the province as a reward for its dramatic and decisive turn against AQI and against the Sunni rejectionist insurgency. In any other war, with any other president, this event would be recognized for what it is: the sign of a crucial victory over two challenges that had seemed both unconquerable and fatal. It should be recognized as at least the Gettysburg of this war, to the extent that counterinsurgencies can have such turning points.
Of course you can take the comparison to Gettysburg as bad news, if you're so inclined. This means the rest of the shooting war and Reconstruction is yet to follow; that long years lie ahead; that the generational war is begun, but not yet completed.
On the other hand you can take Kagan's comparison to be inadequate. Although Kagan spends the rest of his article demonstrating why the success in Anbar -- and the methods used to achieve them -- are pivotal to the solution of reconstructing Iraq in general he completely avoids addressing the larger question. That is the possibility that success in Iraq may be a decisive point in the war on terror as a whole. One of the key phrases that has made its way into the President speeches in Iraq is "bottom-up". "Bottom-up" is the new code word for "bringing democracy" to a particular situation; but it is a concept that is subtly yet fundamentally different from its predecessor. It emphasizes organizing before elections. It requires ground capability -- interpreters, PRTs, political warfare, information operations -- as precursors to diplomacy, grand bargains, treaties and aid packages. Properly understood, "bottom-up" is a word for an entirely new capability which America doesn't have yet possess, though arguably the USA is working on it.
But the one problem with "bottom-up" is that it may be overpowered by those other powerful Washington DC processes, like "inside-out" and "topsy-turvey". And most especially, "not invented here". The biggest challenge of the campaign in Iraq is not reconciling the Sunnis with Shias; but reconciling the Blue and Red; in creating a consensus foreign policy between the Republicans and the Democrats. Iraq is like Vietnam in this. It is not about a war in a far-away country. It is also about a struggle in America. Viewed in these terms, the success in Anbar, however glorious, seems still small and far away.