Ken Timmerman of NewsMax asks the panel what Al Qaeda would look like if the surge in Iraq never happened "and Al Qaeda was allowed to take over Iraq," which would be news to the 60 percent of Iraq that’s Shiite and never ever ever would have permitted such a thing.
Hoffmann, unsurprisingly, disagrees with the premise of Timmerman’s question. The Anbar Awakening, which started before the surge, was more important than the surge, though he adds that the "surge clearly mattered." More centrally, "Al Qaeda has always seen Iraq as a diversion," he adds, to buy time for Al Qaeda to regroup in Pakistan. Coll agrees, and adds that the victory over Al Qaeda in Iraq is more properly seen as a victory for Iraqis.
And if I can add: Timmerman should be happy that’s the case! Regardless of the immediate politics of the moment, it’s unquestionably better for the long-term war against Al Qaeda if Muslims defeat Al Qaeda. That’s the truest strategic victory there is: an indigenous, authentic, irrefutable setback for the jihadist entity, emanating precisely from the people it’s playing for. For Americans to claim credit for it is truly to committment a counterproductive category error. (Well, that is, unless the true goal here is to sanctify Bush instead of defeating bin Laden.) Focus, right-wingers, focus!