In a news conference today, President Bush said that he now sees political progress in Iraq that is “matching” the security gains achieved last year:
It was clear from my discussions [with Prime Minister Maliki] that there’s great hope in Iraq, that the Iraqis are beginning to see political progress that is matching the dramatic security gains for the past year.
But Pentagon officials are wary of sounding such an optimistic note, particularly on “political progress.” In fact, they say more difficult times are ahead.
Today at the Heritage Foundation, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle Eastern Affairs Mark Kimmitt said 2008 will be “far more difficult” than 2007 for the U.S. strategy because “it depends far more on the Iraqis themselves to show progress on key legislation, on their economy, and reconciliation.” Kimmitt predicted only a mild chance that “surge” security gains will last:
2008 and beyond will be a success, the surge will be a success, if the gains in security can be translated into gains in stability…if I had to put a number to it, maybe it’s three in 10, maybe it’s 50-50, if we play our cards right.
Kimmitt added that seeing “such significant progress in security with only the foundations of progress in reconciliation is a bit disheartening, not to mention sobering.”
In an interview with Newsweek, Gen. David Petraeus hesitated to be “optimistic” as of yet, saying, “[We] should be realistic at this point, and the reality of Iraq is that it’s very hard.”
The tenuous nature of Iraq’s lull in violence hasn’t stopped hawks like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) from already declaring success.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum adds that “Kimmitt was reading a prepared statement, so this was presumably a considered and vetted position.”