What will bring stability and peace to Iraq? For the first couple of years after the invasion, the standard answer was military might. American troops would begin the job. Only then, once there was relative calm, could the Iraqi Army and the police force preserve the peace while political institutions were established and a functioning democracy took shape. Even those who believed in the promise of Iraqi democracy echoed this view. Each time the political process reached a milestone—interim constitution, elections, proposed constitution, referendum, elections again—we embraced the progress but warned that without improved security, all this political development could come to naught.
But sometime in the last year, the conventional American view of how to end the violence changed. Today you hear from soldiers and civilians alike that only the Iraqi political process can create peace, by generating a settlement that strikes a balance among the interests of Iraq’s various groups. The main purpose of President Bush’s recent surprise visit to Baghdadwas to meet with Iraqi politicians, not to buck up the troops’ morale as he did on Thanksgiving 2003. Even the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been studiously played down as a sign of progress. Once, security was going to enable politics. Now it is supposed to be the other way around: politics will buy security.