Like Obama, I don't want to suggest I've absorbed all of the facts, but a couple of thoughts.
First, it's too soon to tell the outcome. As Roggio pointed out on Friday, "this operation needs to develop before it can be called a success or failure, and that will take weeks or even months." We and our Iraqi allies were going to confront these militias at some point. Ever since al Qaeda was routed from Anbar, critics of the war pointed to the remaining Shia militias as the insurmountable obstacle to victory. Now we're finally seeing some action on that front--it's not clear that this particular action will be successful, but at least there's movement, and from the Iraqis.
Anthony Cordesman says the fighting "is better seen as a power grab, an effort by Mr. Maliki and the most powerful Shiite political parties to establish their authority over Basra and the parts of Baghdad that have eluded their graspâ€¦" That doesn't sound so bad to me.
Faced with an intractable problem, Maliki bet big and confronted the most powerful militia in Iraq. When one looks at the rest of the Middle East, it's not at all apparent that the region's more problematic regimes are inclined to do the same. Take Pakistan, where broad swaths of the country are controlled by militias, the Taliban, al Qaeda. If only Musharraf had the resolve to violently confront these threats to his government's sovereignty. It's the same in the Palestinian territories, where Mahmoud Abbas must rely on the IDF to keep him in power. Abbas might be willing to confront Hamas, but he is unable. And in Lebanon, a weak central government lacks the resolve to strike at Hezbollah. It strikes me as a good thing that Maliki can and will go after those who directly challenge his government--even to the New York Times it looks like progress:
For starters, the Shiite rebels are fighting mainly Iraqi soldiers, rather than Americans. Their leader, Moktada al-Sadr, is not defending against attacks from a redoubt inside the country's most sacred shrine, but is issuing edicts with a tarnished reputation from an undisclosed location, possibly outside the country. And Iraq's prime minister, a Shiite whom Americans had all but despaired would ever act against militias of his own sect, is taking them on fiercely.
Finally, Allah links this quote from a former political adviser to the American military in Baghdad: "The Sadrists will likely view their survival as victory." If we were to leave Iraq, surely they'd set their sights higher.
Update: And as Roggio notes in his latest, a lot of them aren't surviving.