Rich Lowry gets frighteningly reality based: “Part of the success of the surge is that we were talking to Sunni tribesmen and former Saddamists who were doing terrible things in Iraq. When conditions were right (they got sick of al Qaeda, the Shia were killing them, we were there in force), we flipped them. Would anyone now have it any other way?”
I’d say this is an underappreciated point in several directions. But the beginning of wisdom here is to recall that the decision to start negotiating with insurgent leaders was not, in fact, “part of” the surge. It began chronologically prior to the surge and is, of course, logically independent of it. This is something that liberals had been recommending for a long time and conservatives, as is there want, tended to reject the idea out of hand as a form of appeasement. The troop surge was a different idea which, it seems to me, mostly served as a hawkish gesture with the right hand to distract attention from the left hand’s dovish move to negotiate with foes.
But be that as it may, the point stands. Even if you think that maintaining a large, indefinite American military presence in Iraq ill-serves our strategic interests, I think there’s no denying at this point that the tactical shift toward cutting deals with insurgent leaders has paid dividends in terms of making the presence more sustainable and helping to damage AQI. And this is essentially what liberals are saying about Iran — that the U.S. can often best advance its interests by setting clear priorities and preparing to negotiate (even with “bad guys”) about how to advance our priorities in ways that are consistent with the priorities of other actors.