The SWJ has sat in on PRT roundtables and discussions and corresponded with other non-military personnel working issues that are not directly related to security. If we interpreted what we heard correctly, another trend appears to be taking root – one of political reconciliation at the local level. This is significant (though it has not received the attention it deserves in the MSM) and in the cyclic relationship between political and military initiatives it contributes to increased security which in turn contributes to even further political gains. Still, this is at the local (provincial / city / tribal) level and given several years to play-out could very well force the hand of national political reconciliation, or not.The window, no doubt, is very unpredictable. The fact that there is relative calm now is all the more reason for the present Administration to start pushing them to get things cleaned up.
Marc Lynch at Abu Aardvark (and quoted in Ricks’s article) lays out an alternate view on recent success, both political and security related, associated with the “bottom-up” approach:The officers interviewed in the story are agonizing over whether provincial elections would help bridge the political gap. I understand the hope that this could break the impasse, but I'm skeptical for three reasons.First, it's important to recognize the intense Sunni-Sunni political struggles unfolding, as I wrote about in some detail the other day, and think about how elections could be a trigger for bringing those undercurrents to the surface.Second, as I mentioned the other day most Sunnis seem more preoccupied with the national level than the local - the new elections that they want are to the national Parliament. They are also intensely suspicious of anything which smells like partition, and promoting provincial over national elections could well trigger an intensely hostile reaction.Finally, and most importantly, provincial elections sidestep the really important question: the relationship between these local militias and the central state. Without institutionalized control over the means of violence and a meaningful political bargain at the center, I just do not see any way to prevent a spiral into sectarian warfare. And thus, as Ricks quotes my argument, the current strategy is accelerating Iraq's descent into a warlord state even if violence is temporarily down.
Regardless of what one thinks of the bottom-up approach to COIN (I maintain that as 2007 dawned it was the “only approach” we had as an option), time, resources and patience are not unlimited and if the Iraqi national government does not immediately take advantage of the recent relative calm it may not have another chance.
It would also help if our US representatives would stop taking pot-shots at the whole effort and maybe stand behind the progress with some hope of success. Unfortunately, they won't benefit to their liking if Iraq succeeds and that leads them to take merely partisan actions rather than actions that would benefit the nation as a whole.