Let's agree on this point: Gen. David Petraeus is a fine military leader. Underline the word military.
No field commander worth his stars, and Petraeus wears four on each shoulder, will ever admit he can't accomplish a mission. It's part of the training to go full bore.
The problem in Iraq is that while the military has moved forward a few baby steps, there has been no progress on the diplomatic front. In fact, the Maliki government is going in reverse and almost at full throttle. After all, the Iraqi parliament took August off for vacation.
Few voice predictions that Maliki can succeed. His days in power may be worse than shaky. While our military can secure a few neighborhoods at a time in Baghdad, the sectarian violence continues with little sign of any improvement there. We keep sending tough messages to Maliki, and he pays little or no attention.
If Maliki leaves, it will take a new government several months to function, if that soon. There is little assurance that the Shiites and Sunnis will stop killing each other, and U.S. troops are caught in the middle. Have we forgotten there is no front line in this battle?
In addition, almost left out of the current debate is this gnawing question: Who will be left in Iraq when the shooting finally stops next year or, more likely, many years beyond?
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mainly those with some financial means, have fled the country to Jordan or other neighboring countries in the region. That number includes doctors, lawyers, and educated businesspeople who have seen no reason to remain in a shooting gallery. There is serious doubt about their willingness to return, given the number of civilian and military casualties to date.
Meanwhile, President Bush still talks of ultimate victory. There are supporting ads running on TV that urge viewers to call members of Congress to thwart any "surrender." Even tough-talking Democrats do not utter the word surrender.
Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker seem to have stifled some Democratic voices for a hard timetable of troop withdrawal or redeployment. Shaky Republican support for the surge seems to have hardened after the soothing words from the general in his testimony this week.
So the endless war continues. And to what end?