Bush in Anbar: Iraq's 'Gettysburg' Moment?
It is if you believe Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the current surge:
President Bush’s Labor Day visit to Iraq should have surprised no one who was paying attention. At such a critical point in the debate over Iraq policy, it was almost inconceivable that he would fly to and from Australia without stopping in Iraq. What was surprising was the precise location and nature of the visit. Instead of flying into Baghdad and surrounding himself with his generals and the Iraqi government, Bush flew to al Asad airfield, west of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. He brought with him his secretaries of State and Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the commander of U.S. Central Command. He was met at al Asad by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kemal al Maliki, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Vice Presidents Adel Abdul Mehdi and Tariq al Hashemi. In other words, Bush called together all of the leading political and military figures in his administration and the Iraqi government in the heart of Anbar Province.Kagan avers that
"If ever there was a sign that we have turned a corner in the fight against both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency, this was it."Why? Kagan goes on to list several reasons why, thanks to Sunni and Shia self interest, the two sides might reconcile in spite of each other:
But the turn of Anbar is not simply an isolated local phenomenon with no significance in the larger political struggle in Iraq. On the contrary, it is an event that may well have profound long-term consequences even more important than the passage of any given piece of legislation. The Anbari rejection of AQI deprived Anbar’s leaders of the single most effective fighting force they had in attacking the Shia-led Iraqi government and attacking or defending against its militias. If the Anbaris had thereupon asked for the creation of a local, autonomous or semi-autonomous security force that would be a de facto tribal militia, there would have been cause for concern about their intentions. But they did not. Instead, Anbar’s tribal leaders have been offering their sons by the thousands as volunteers in the Iraqi police army. An entirely new training center was built in a couple of months in Habbaniyah, near Fallujah, which has just graduated its first couple of classes of Anbari recruits to join the ISF. The Anbari police will naturally stay in their areas, but they will not have the technical or tactical ability to project force outside of Anbar — they cannot become an effective Sunni “coup force.” Anbaris joining the Iraqi army, on the other hand, are joining a heavily Shia institution that they will not readily be able to seize control of and turn against the Shia government. In other words, the turn in Anbar is dramatically reducing the ability of the Anbaris to fight the Shia, and committing them ever more completely to the success of Iraq as a whole.This is a long, thoughtful piece by Kagan who, in my opinion, has been known more for his cheerleading than for cogent analysis. This article, however, proves to be an exception. He makes the case that Anbar and other Sunni-dominated provinces are the key to bringing Iraq together.
He dismisses the Sunni politicians in Baghdad as out of touch with what is going on in the awakening provinces. This may very well be so but he points to the parliamentary elections in 2009 as the time when the situation would be rectified. Can America commit large numbers of troops for more than 2 years in Iraq? Not if the Democrats have anything to say about it. They are under enormous pressure from their base to end the war now and will really begin to feel the heat if, as expected and hoped, General Petreaus's report sways the Congress in giving him more time - perhaps through the spring - to keep the pressure on al-Qaeda and allow the Iraqi government to try and reconcile the warring factions.
Right now, our commitment to Iraq hangs on the knife's edge. Realizing this, the President offered up the notion that there could be a reduction in troops in the near future if things continued to improve. While he was not specific about how many troops or when they might be redeployed, it is a certainty that by the end of next March, many of the additional 30,000 earmarked for the surge will have to be rotated home. Whether any reductions can occur before then depends on the progress made by Prime Minister Maliki's government in passing legislation necessary to begin the healing process in Iraq.
Kagan points to a "bottom-up" reconciliation already occurring between Shia and Sunni in some areas. While encouraging, such efforts must be matched by the central government if only to prove that they have the desire to reconcile in the first place, something many analysts are skeptical about.
Kagan's analysis is both provacative and interesting. I recommend you read the whole thing.