I attended a panel discussion on the surge back in March that featured Kenneth Pollack (see my post here), and while it is true that he supported the strategy, he was very skeptical that it would work. The reason he gave for supporting it at the time was that the surge was the only option on the table that, if successful, could prevent a full-blown civil war. To him, the risks associated with withdrawal were greater than the risks of trying the surge. So, Jim is right to point out that he has been a supporter of the war, and not some lefty who had a road to Damascus moment when he visited Iraq. However, by the same token, he has had a very measured approach to Iraq, and should not be seen as some ra-ra pro-war Bill Kristol type.
I think all of us war supporters should heed Jim’s criticism of “the eagerness to cry ‘turning point’ whenever there is any encouraging data without waiting to see how long it lasts.” Indeed, from the fall of Saddam’s statue, to the capture of Saddam himself, to the elections, to forming a government, to the killing of Zarqawi, to various months in which violence decreased, those of us who support the war have gotten our hopes up before, only to be disappointed when a wave of new violence breaks out and the situation turns sour. I’m encouraged by some of these positive reports, but I’ll only start thinking of it as a “turning point” if the situation continues to improve through at least the end of the year, and real political progress gets made. With that said, I’d love to wait “to see how long it lasts.” Unfortunately, Democrats in Congress and opponents of the war have already declared the war a lost cause, and they want to start withdrawing our troops ASAP, without giving the surge a chance. So, to me, the question is not whether we are at a turning point. The question is whether there are enough encouraging signs in Iraq to justify giving Gen. Petraeus more time to implement the new strategy. I think there are.