Since General Petreas took over in Iraq, we cut a deal with the tribal leaders in Anbar province to put them in charge of protecting and securing their territory from Al Qaeda members. We provided them with financial aid and arms, and as a result the number of attacks on our troops dropped from almost 500 to under 100 per month. That's great news. The only problem is that this deal is almost identical to a agreement that General Musharaf struck with the tribal leaders in Waziristan, the uncontrolled region next to the Pakistani-Afghanistan border, which dramatically reduced the number of attacks on the Pakistani troops in Waziristan, but provided a safe haven for attacks on our troops in Afghanistan. Is it necessary to remind anybody that our generals are highly critical of Musharaf’s deal?
Is it necessary to remind anybody that de facto formation of another powerful militia outside the constitutional Iraqi Army and police forces directly undermines everything we did during last four years in Iraq--democratic elections, the Iraqi Constitution--as well as our previous determination not to deal with the insurgents?
Additionally, if the Iraqis themselves were able to stabilize the situation in volatile Anbar province on their own, then the argument of our generals that we should stay several additional years to protect Iraq and its democratically elected government from Al Qaeda is wrong, since it is obvious that the main danger to Iraq comes from the elected government, which is extremely instrumental in inflaming sectarian tensions and violence--which means that the longer we stay in Iraq, the more time those politicians have to play their bloody sectarian game.
There is an old cure for the incompetent politicians: a new election. The fact that the White House isn’t proposing new elections means its judgment is that there is no guarantee that even more intolerant politicians wouldn’t be elected--which means that a prolonged stay in Iraq doesn’t solve any problem. We cannot fix Iraq's problems, only the Iraqis can do it.
The question is, if our generals are willing to deal with the tribal leaders today, why they didn’t do it four years ago. That might have dramatically reduced the number of our casualties in Iraq, but it would have been bad for Bush’s re-election efforts and his proclaimed goals. If you still remember, the name of the game in 2003 was de-Baathification of Iraq, which meant kicking out of their jobs members of exactly those Anbar-based tribes for being the hardcore Saddam base. Four years later everybody has forgotten why we went to Iraq, so our generals can change their strategy anyway they want.