Anthony Cordesman takes a realistic look at claims of the surge's success:

"US and Iraqi forces are scoring important, if regional, tactical victories. However, these cover only western and central Iraq and may well be temporary. For all the claims that the “surge” worked, it is clear that it did not work purely on its own.


While the US and Iraqi forces have scored gains in Baghdad, and west and central Iraq, these are fragile and need to be consolidated by bringing Arab Sunnis fully back into Iraq as a nation. The need for decisive political action goes beyond the uprising in Anbar. Unlike US estimates, Iraqi statistics do not show a drop in the level of violence in the Baghdad area. The United Nations estimates that the number of displaced refugees continues to grow. Moreover, Baghdad is kept secure only by US force. The Shia militias are largely intact. Without political progress and a US military presence, the result could be a forced Shia takeover of the capital." (emphasis added)

About western Iran southern Iraq, Cordesman writes:

"The coalition security effort has virtually collapsed in the south. Southern Iraq is now under the control of rival Shia factions and the British-led forces have withdrawn. The US lacks the force strength to intervene in the south if it wanted to, and a Shia-dominated central government will never let US forces take on this mission. Iranian gangs and religious extremist influence are growing in every province in the south."

Don't hold your breath waiting for Bill Kristol and the other surgeniks at the Weekly Standard to address these issues, as they've consistently shown less interest in how realities in Iraq affect U.S. goals, more in how American public perception of those realities affects Republican political fortunes.

Recall that Cordesman published a similar corrective in the wake of O'Hanlon and Pollack's now-infamous "A War We Just Might Win," the op-ed which, probably more than any other single piece of writing, served to move the Iraq debate onto more advantageous ground for President Bush and the surge's advocates, shifting the argument from whether the surge was actually serving U.S. strategic goals in Iraq (no) to whether it was achieving any tactical success (yes).

Cordesman wrote then:

"So far, Iraq’s national government has failed to act at the rate necessary to move the country forward or give American military action political meaning."

In regard Iraq’s national government, this still holds true. But the surge has had political meaning in the one place where it really matters for those who devised it: The American media. As I wrote last week, the president and his enablers have treated the war in Iraq first and foremost as a message problem, something to be defended with clever arguments, not to be won with better policies. Sadly, I suspect that Cordesman's current sober, fact-based assessment will have about as much effect as the last, and will be lost amid the locker room din of conservatives dousing each other with victory champagne and snapping towels at anyone who won't join in.

--Matthew Duss