In the light of President Bush’s visit to Iraq (speech here), David Brooks’s assessment of the slow sea change in thinking about that country is interesting. Brooks argues that a stable Iraq will not come from a (non-existent) non-sectarian center, but from the efforts of local tribes to impose order on their areas. As he puts it,
The crucial question now is: Do these tribes represent proto-local governments, or are they simply regional bands arming themselves in anticipation of a cataclysmic civil war?
To elaborate on this question, I’d add: Will their experience in cooperating with Americans to impose and maintain local security and stability encourage them to cooperate with their neighbors who are also interested in imposing and maintaining local security and stability?
Update: Here’s something along similar lines in today’s WSJ. An interesting paragraph:
Gen. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, often refers to the need for "accommodation." He argues it is unrealistic to think Iraqis will reconcile any time soon. But maybe they can "accommodate" each other. Whether it’s called "accommodation," "bottom-up reconciliation" or "soft partition," U.S. officials quietly acknowledge that they are basically talking about a strategy focused on strengthening local leaders to make them more self-sufficient and less reliant on the central government. "If the central government doesn’t want to take control, maybe the locals will," said one senior U.S. commander who has played a key role in crafting the new approach. "It is too early to tell. We are riding a tiger. It may take us where we want to go."