John McCain is hyping the line that the surge was successful in Iraq because violence has gone down drastically. It's good that violence has gone down, but does that mean we are winning? Basically we have set up al-Maliki and a few others as successors to Saddam Hussein. Are they our friends, or Iran's? Or, are they just in it for the money, like Ahmed Chalabi? Maliki has opened up to the Sunnis who are fighting for us, but is that going to be a lasting alliance? The Iraqis and Iranians in general don't like each other, but some dislike each other more than others. Where does Maliki fall on this spectrum?
Some Americans who are well plugged in to the Iraqi scene probably know the answers to these questions or have educated guesses, but if so, they are not talking. Basically all we know is that violence is down. Much of that seems to be due to the decreasing threat from al-Sadr's militia. But again, is that due to his being defeated by forces friendly to the US and to the westernization of Iraq, or is simply a tactical move intended to get the Americans to expedite their withdrawal.
We misjudged Iraq so badly during the invasion, expecting to be welcomed with flowers and candy, that it's unlikely that even the best analysts know exactly what will happen when we leave, although hopefully they are better informed than they were before the war. Of course, one problem is that many of the "experts" sent to Iraq by the Bush administration were just Republican political hacks who didn't speak Arabic and who had no knowledge of Iraqi society. Their time was largely wasted, although they made good money paid by American taxpayers.
My bottom line is that despite the drop in violence, we don't really know whether we are winning, and we probably won't know until after we leave Iraq and it's too late to do anything about it. I have a gut feeling that Maliki and his cronies are a lot friendlier with Iran than Saddam Hussein was, and that we are likely to see Iraq pulled into the Iran/Shiite orbit when we leave.