Compared to the House session yesterday, today's Senate hearing felt like a heart to heart. Its not that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker didn't attempt to evade and spin occasionally, but for such a critically hyped hearing, the top Americans in Iraq performed, well, honorably.
I don't want to give a rundown of every argument brought before the Senate committee. You should all know that is not my style. I, like a maverick stock investor, like to look into the dark corners of the stage to find the nuggets of light. Ok, maybe this isn't one of those dark corners, but I wanted to focus on the foregrounding of Al-Anbar as an example of "success" in Iraq.
Al-Anbar certainly remains a challenge to the Coalition. Patreaus' point, that the Sunni Tribes chose cooperation with the Coalition against al-Qaida elements, indeed is a success story. However, I would advocate caution in suggesting that these Sunni tribes are suddenly our friends. Rather, they are al-qaida's enemies. This is a mistake that American policy seems to make again and again. Perhpas it is an effect of that same sentimental vision of our role in the world that is offered in the media, and particularly in Armed Forces recruiting commercials. This view seems to wrap our 'allies" in the most precious and romantic robes. they are declared heroes, brave nationalists who recognize an idea called "Iraq" and see in al-Qaida a poisonous infiltrator. It is true that they see al-Qaida as a malevolent serpent, but I suspect that they feel the same about their American interlocutors. They know, however that the Americans will leave eventually, while foreign Arab elements will have to be eliminated, so it becomes a marriage of convenience, the type of which the Americans always seem to think is a good idea, and then come back with "it sounded good at the time."
Now that you think I am a cynical bastard, let me finish the point. What emphasizing al-Anbar does is effectively obscure the fact that the major struggle in the country is not defined by whether the Sunni tribes of Anbar decide to become Salafist jihadis, but whether or not they decide to point there guns at the Shiite's who intend to rule over them. Al-Anbar is vital, but it is a vital second stage, the main tragedy being the interconfessional conflict that will eventually tear Iraq asunder.
Which reminds me, my prediction was that Ambassador Crocker would make some allusion, however veiled, to Coalition and Iraqi plans to partition the country. Guess, I was wrong. But don't rule it out. One thing the hearings, both house and Senate versions, revealed - this thing is a long way from being done.
Get out of here. Go read a Hitchens post and feel good about things . . .