Following up on Spencer Ackerman's very good article, I think it's important to understand that, while President Bush will of course treat any good news from Iraq as a vindication of his own "steadfastness," the tribal revolt was unforeseen by anyone who took part in planning the surge, and essentially fell into our laps. Through their brutality, arrogance, and disrespect for Iraqi tribal customs, al-Qaeda apparently drove their former hosts to revolt. To General Petraeus' credit, he seems to have quickly grasped what was going on and used the resources given to him for the surge to exploit this development.
Dave Kilcullen posted an excellent summary of the events which led to the revolt, its significant positive effects, as well as some of the possible downsides:
"The negative implications are easy to state, but far-reaching. For one thing, we have spent the last four years carefully building up and supporting an Iraqi political system based on non-tribal institutions. Indeed, the Coalition Provisional Authority deliberately side-lined the tribes in 2003 in order to focus on building a “modern” democratic state in Iraq, which we equated with a non-tribal state. There were good reasons for this at the time, but we are now seeing the most significant political and security progress in years, via a structure outside the one we have been working so hard to create...In the Iraqi polity, tribes’ rights may end up playing a similar role to states’ rights in some other democracies. They will remain a competing power center to the religious political parties, and hence will probably never be popular with Baghdad politicians, but if correctly handled they have the potential to actually enhance pluralism in Iraq over the long-term, by restraining the excesses of any central government or sectarian faction."
"If correctly handled" is a very thin reed upon which to hang our hopes, but I do agree that events of the last few weeks give cause for (cautious, always) optimism.
I can't get away, though, from this grim thought: After four years of bungling by the Bush administration, after "Freedom is messy," after "Bring 'em on," after "Just a comma," after Fallujah, Samarra, after months and years of Iraqi streets choked with Iraqi bodies, we've allowed "success" in Iraq to be defined down so much that the prospect of a Shia-dominated, fundamentalist Islamic state closely allied with Iran but not in all-out civil war makes us wag our little tails.
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