This essay by Thomas Ricks, written for the Foreign Policy Research Institute is an important contribution to the national debate on Iraq that we sometimes seem collectively determined to avoid.

Ricks begins:

There are three things the American people don’t understand about the war in Iraq right now: (1) how difficult the surge was and how different it was from the previous four years of the war; (2) that the surge failed, judged on its own terms; and (3) that the war is not over. In fact, I suspect we might be only halfway through it, which is to say that President Obama’s war in Iraq may well be longer than George Bush’s war in Iraq, which was five years and ten months old when Bush left office.

It is particularly refreshing to hear a major, respected analyst of the war say that the surge has failed. Throughout the presidential campaign candidates on both sides spent so much time singing the praises of the surge that it became effectively impossible to question that received wisdom. Those of us who pointed out that the surge was supposed to have a military side and a political side and that while the former had been successful the latter had not were rarely heard. Even in hyper-liberal Vermont I could see the shock on people's faces when I made this point during talks or panel discussions.

Ricks' argument for why we are likely to remain in Iraq for a long time to come makes compelling, if unsettling, reading.


Also worth special attention are two items from the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. In this essay the always-compelling Robert Malley & Hussein Agha argue that the search for a workable Israeli-Palestinian peace will continue to fail if it continues to be driven by outsiders.

One of Bush's least noticed but most profound and pernicious legacies in the region might well turn out to have been this transformation of the concept of Palestinian statehood from among the more revolutionary to the more conservative, from inspiring to humdrum... For many in the US, the notion of such radical change often is reduced to the question of whether or not to talk to Hamas. That is a diversion. The challenge is whether Obama can speak to those for whom Hamas speaks. They are the people who have lost faith in America, its motivations, and every proposal it promotes.

The same issue of the Review also contains an excellent piece by Ahmed Rashid. Titled "Pakistan on the Brink" it picks up where Rashid's recent book Descent into Chaos leaves off.