Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency, is far-fetched.
When the op-ed appeared three weeks ago, I wrote a column predicting that it would make an impact, that some would invoke it as "a set of boots-on-the-ground rebuttal points" to the "lofty claims" in the then-forthcoming Petraeus report. It is galling that so many pundits and legislators touted a Times op-ed by two Brookings scholars who spent eight days in Iraq and came away persuaded that the war might be won—but paid virtually no attention to the far more unusual, even unprecedented, op-ed by seven active-duty soldiers still based in Iraq, some on their second or third tour of duty, who dared to step forth and argue otherwise.
I'm not saying that, because the NCOs are grunts, they're right—or that, because Petraeus is a commanding general, he's wrong. I'm just saying it would have been good to have that dialogue. It would be good to have soldiers who think in these terms rising through the ranks. My guess is that Petraeus wouldn't disagree. The question is how many more smart, brave soldiers we'll lose while the rest of the nation sidesteps the debate.