Almost 170,000. That's roughly how many troops are currently in Iraq, trying to keep the peace, and train up an Iraqi force. The "surge" that began nearly seven months ago has proven to increase security in some areas, including sections of Baghdad. Making the Iraqi people safer, along with our own troops, is always an admirable accomplishment, and the troops themselves really should be praised for all their efforts. (But one wonders why we didn't start out with these numbers in the first place). The problem, however, is that this troop situation is not perfect, they have not contained most areas of Iraq, and the level of troops on the ground is completely unsustainable. It isn't a matter of If Bush will bring some of the troops home, it is when. They have already extended the length of stay, so aside from another extension, or a draft (both extremely implausible), the troop level will decrease in the coming months.
The problem with this heightened security is a deep one. Because almost every military person or politician agrees regardless of their affiliation, that Iraq will be a success only once the Iraqi government is stabilized and starts to take a leadership position in running the of its country, especially its security. Bush assumes that the Iraqis want an American-like democratic system, as evinced from his push for the Iraqi elections and his general fervent and unyielding belief in making Iraq a bastion of strength of Western democratic ideals. But his misguided naivete is quickly digging him into a hole deeper than the crawl space where they found Saddam.
We have to come to terms with the fact that perhaps Iraq and it's people are not quite as ready as we'd wish them to be politically. When Petraeus and Crocker get up in front of Congress this week, they will inevitably report that while troops are giving their all, the political situation is in precarious, and in disrepair. Many reporters, politicians, and Iraqi civilians recognize the precarious nature of their government, and are predicting its fall. Some believe the present government in power might be gone in a matter of months.
People have a tendency to trust generals, and the people on the ground, more than they do politicians, and for many good reasons, one of them being the fact that they are in the middle of the fray. But those commanders are influenced politically, no matter how unprejudiced they might seem, or how much knowledge they have taken from being on the ground. The unfortunate situation we find ourselves in as a nation is that physically, we can force change, but philosophically and politically, we are impotent. The question is now, (and it is not a straightforward one) how do we complete this mission with the least amount of damage to our forces, as well as to the Iraqi people? Discouragingly, our president seems to think the answer lies in a monochromatic answer - it is a matter of black and white to him, and his decisions and policy are dictated thus. But the troops on the ground, and the Iraqi people, they live and toil in shades of gray.