Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds.
Indeed, take a look at the right-wing blogs, the Weekly Standard, or the National Review, and you'll see one analysis after another that points to the "success" the military is having in reducing violence in Baghdad (and Anbar, of course.) Such a conclusion is at best questionable given the unwillingness of the military or the Iraqi government to provide hard numbers, but even if it were true, it would be irrelevant. Our military can act as a cap on the violence, pushing levels of fighting down to a certain extent by virture of military might. But they cannot eradicate the violence, nor can they undo bitter sectarian hatreds. This is evidenced by the absolute lack of political progress, which was the ostensible purpose of the surge. One can sit around musing over whether hundreds of thousands more American troops could give us the power to manipulate Iraqi society to the extent necessary to stabilize and democratize it, but the question is hypothetical because we most certainly can't do it now with 170,000 troops. The focus on military succes is a distraction, but a useful one to the war supporters, who have little else to hang their hats on. Some are now trying to argue for a "bottom-up approach" to reconciliation in Iraq, but that's a post hoc justification based largely on the "success" in Anbar which mostly represents a truce between American forces and Sunni insurgents eager to turn on al Qaeda and cannot be replicated throughout Iraq. Simply put, enhanced military efforts have not produced conditions for greater stability in Iraq and as a result, the surge can be considered nothing but a failure, as Will quite rightly points out.