Victory in Iraq remains both possible and necessary. Since President George W. Bush's announcement in January 2007 of a change in U.S. strategy and the deployment of additional military and civilian resources to support that new strategy, the situation in Iraq has begun to improve in many important ways. U.S. and Iraqi forces together have attacked both Sunni and Shiite terrorists and militia groups, including conducting sweeps of Sadr City and other Shiite areas in Baghdad that the Iraqi government had previously declared off-limits. Militia killings dropped during the first months of increased security operations as U.S. and Iraqi forces established Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts throughout Baghdad. Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al Maliki has supported the arrest of a number of senior Shiite political figures tied to Moqtada al Sadr and the Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM). Sunni sheiks in Anbar province have turned against al Qaeda in Iraq, filled the police forces of Fallujah and Ramadi with their sons, and reached out to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. In a dramatic gesture, Maliki visited Ramadi and met with some of the sheiks in March. All of these developments preceded the deployment of most of the additional U.S. forces the president promised in January, and came before the major clear-and-hold operations that are to be the centerpiece of the new approach. The continuation of positive developments in Iraq depends upon an ongoing U.S. and Iraqi commitment to establishing and maintaining security, a commitment that has made possible most of the progress to date.
Success in Iraq--still defined as helping to establish an Iraqi state that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, has a democratic government seen as legitimate by the overwhelming proportion of its people, and is a reliable ally in the War on Terror--requires more than the mere establishment of security. It also requires a well-developed program of economic, political, social, and governance assistance guided by a clear strategy that supports, complements, and benefits from efforts to establish and maintain security. This strategy should be aimed primarily at helping to establish security and building the capacity of the Iraqi government to maintain security and to provide other essential services. Success requires committing the necessary military and nonmilitary resources to this well-thought-out strategy, and appointing individuals in Washington and Baghdad with the responsibility and authority to coordinate and execute the military and nonmilitary aspects of that strategy. It requires developing metrics not for inputs into the project or the efficiency of their expenditure, but for their effects on the situation in Iraq. It requires recognizing that the goals are training Iraqis and giving them responsibility for security and government operations--but these goals should not be seen primarily as means for accelerating American withdrawal. And success requires increasing the opportunities for the American people to become involved in the war effort, to assist the outstanding soldiers and civilians engaged in this vital struggle, and to understand the consequences of both success and failure in Iraq.
Establishing security in Iraq is an overriding American national interest. It is by far the most important objective the United States must pursue in the Middle East and is rivaled by few other American security objectives around the world. Bringing peace to lands torn by civil strife in vital regions has been a consistent part of American grand strategy for the past quarter of a century for good reason. America benefits more than any other state from a peaceful world, and suffers more than any other from chaos in pivotal regions. Over the past twenty-five years, the United States has been successful in reestablishing and maintaining peace between warring peoples and states when it has been determined to do so, and has failed only when it has chosen to fail. Every failure, whether the abandonment of Beirut in the 1980s or of Afghanistan and Somalia in the 1990s, has carried a high price for the United States and its allies. Successes, such as Bosnia and Kosovo, have also been costly, controversial, and criticized, but they averted disasters that for years seemed inevitable. With the president's recent decision to change American strategy in Iraq, to appoint a new civilian and military team to execute the new strategy, and to recommit American resources to the effort, success is much more within our reach. The price will still be very high, but as is often the case, the price of failure would be far higher. . . .