He's right, and his is a valid point. I also understand the arguments on the other side, but in reality, progress in Iraq cannot be measure by casualty stats. Progress in Iraq is demonstrated politically and specifically through the reconciliation process.
I read Jon's title to BG Wolff (who btw agreed the point was valid) and ask him to address the political aspect of all of this, namely the benchmarks and their status.
To be succinct, on a national level, nothing much has changed. That's not to say there hasn't been political progress, but the three major benchmarks, de-Bathification, the hydrocarbon law and provincial elections haven't seen much progress to this point.
He caveated that by saying that doesn't mean they haven't received focused attention on a daily basis. Apparently President Bush and PM Maliki have had numerous discussions concerning those issues. He also pointed out that Ramadan has just ended and the Council of Representatives is just back and in session. The issues are getting daily attention there as well. They hope and expect to have progress on those issues by the end of the year. We'll see.
Speaking of Ramadan, and casualties, BG Wolff also pointed out that the expected violence over Ramadan didn't materialize. Trends, in fact, have been very favorable. A 50% decrease in attacks on civilians, 60-70% decrease in attacks on the ISF and 60% decrease in IED attacks.
Those are significant numbers. So we asked, what do they mean? BG Wolff said they mean that the purpose of the Surge is being accomplished by a number of factors which have combined in a complementary way to create a synergy that is providing positive outcomes.
He said there were 3 things that had combined to make the progress they're seeing both real and rapid.
One was the fact that the Surge provided more combat forces and more combat power which allowed them to go into places where previously they hadn't gone. As you recall, when they began Phase II of the Surge operations ion 15 June, casualties spiked. We're now on the back side of that and the trends, as noted, have gone strongly the other way.
Secondly, they're reaping some of the benefits of reconciliation (and that is partly because of our change of strategy - counterinsurgency - as well as the "awakening" which has spread). Wolff said it plays out in different ways in different communities, such as Anbar, Abu Ghraib, Baquba, Saladin, Ishkandria, etc., but the bottom line is Iraqis (through their sheiks) have stepped forward and committed to taking charge of their own areas. That has led to programs like the "Concerned Citizen" program (some reports put them at about 50,000) as well as increased volunteering for the police and ISF.
That has all been helped by the US commitment to stay and help them. Pushing out into the neighborhoods and establishing posts there where CF live with the population has given the people and the sheiks the confidence to commit.
Last, the Sadr/JAM cease-fire has helped as well. CF and ISF still has to deal with JAM Special Groups and other factions, but they're able to do that rather well.
I ask about Basra and the mixed reports we've been getting out of there. Wolff was aware of them and said that to the best of his knowledge, Basra was doing quite well. He did note that the Brits have (or are going to) drawn down to about 2500. But he also noted that Baghdad has moved IA units down there under Gen. Mohan and police forces under Gen. Jalib and everything seems to be under control at this time. He mentioned that essentially there are three rival shia factions there fighting over political control.
The last question Wolff fielded was about the PKK and Turkey. He said there was "lots of energy around here" concerning the situation and "lots of concern". This morning in Ankara an Iraqi delegation headed by the Minister of Defense and including the Minister of the Interior as well as US representatives met with their Turkish counterparts to discuss the PKK problem. Next week, apparently, in Istanbul, at the "Neighbors Conference", Sec. of State Rice will be there to follow up on what they're able to accomplish today.
So it appears that the three countries may be able to work something out which precludes a Turkish invasion (although that's not at all a 'done deal').
I got this link up on Jon’s thread too late, after everybody moved on.
I think Jon is correct to say that political reconciliation will be the ultimate measure of success or failure in the Iraq gambit, but I think he was too quick to simply assert that there has been no progress on that scale and declare the whole thing a failure. As the Bartle Bull essay demonstrates, there has been progress on the political side.
In reality there’s been tremendous political progress on local, provincial and regional levels.
But what I think Jon is alluding too is not just the political progress there but the political battle here. And that is going to be focused on national progress and the benchmarks. Whether fair or not, that’s the playing field.
And while a reduction of casualties is welcome news and everyone certainly hopes the trend continues, that means nothing in the political wars that we’re having here. Benchmarks and national reconciliation do.
OTOH, if casualties and violence can be all but eliminated, then the argument to leave don’t quite have the urgency they once had (especially if a fairly major drawdown is in progress in ’08). See Kosovo ... "we’ll be home by Christmas". No casualties. No casualties = out of sight. Out of sight = out of mind.