When 5,000 US troops leave Iraq this week, it will mark the beginning of the end of the US military's surge. These troops won't be replaced and, over the next six or seven months, the rest of the 30,000 soldiers will be pulled out.
So, what has the surge accomplished? Not what it was instituted to achieve.
On the plus side, the surge has seen a decline in both sectarian violence and attacks on US soldiers. Sunni resistance fighters turned on al-Qaeda terrorists - Sunni versus Sunni. The much larger problem, the Shia militias went to ground or, at the direction of Maliki, were integrated into Iraq's military and police services (that's not good by the way).
The upshot is that there's no way to know whether the surge actually caused the decline in killings, much less whether that will continue.
Then there's the downside. The surge was supposed to give the Baghdad government a bit of stability to allow it to put in place laws and measures designed to further reconciliation amoung the country's three main groups - Arab Sunni, Arab Shia and Kurds. Progress was to be measured by a series of "benchmarks" prescribed by the Bush administration.
In late summer the Democrats in Congress went on the warpath, furious that the al-Maliki government had achieved virtually none of these benchmarks. That's when America's commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, turned up and made the Dems back down. Petraeus noted that the surge had only begun and it would take until October to assess how it succeeded or failed.
By the standards of last summer and the standards of October, the surge has been a dismal failure. The benchmarks, Bush's benchmarks, remain largely ignored by the Maliki government. Reconciliation isn't at hand. The key oil law (the one to hand the oil fields to US companies) gathers dust. And now the troops have begun to leave.
So what's a failed president to do in these circumstances? Why, simple, move the Baghdad goal posts. Throwing the "benchmarks" to the winds, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker said, "It is going to be one thing at a time, maybe two things at a time, we hope with increasing momentum. It is a long-term process.”
From The New York Times:
There have been signs that American influence over Iraqi politics is dwindling after the recent improvements in security — which remain incomplete, as shown by a deadly bombing Friday in Baghdad. While Bush officials once said they aimed to secure “reconciliation” among Iraq’s deeply divided religious, ethnic and sectarian groups, some officials now refer to their goal as “accommodation.”
This is about the point where George w. Bush seems to lose interest in his adventures. When the going gets tough, he seems to be drawn to the next shiny object. Remember the grandiose "Road Map" to solve the Israeli/Palestinian problem. That was all you heard about, until one day you didn't hear it any more. Remember Osama bin Laden? Don't hear much about him any more either. How about GWOT, the Global War on Terror, war without end? That's been shunted aside too.