The thing to remember about General David Petraeus's report to the U.S. Congress on the progress made by the military "surge" in Iraq is that he is basically reporting on his own performance.
The probability that he was going to say it is now time to give up and go home from Iraq was always zero.
The two American generals who shared command responsibility in Iraq when President George W. Bush first proposed the surge strategy late last year were fired when they did not back it. Of course, Petraeus supports it.
So why are his opinions being treated with such reverence in political Washington, as if he were an independent auditor called in to assess the situation? Because the deeper truth is that none of the major players is willing to pull the plug on the Iraq fiasco until after next year's election.
Meanwhile, everybody is just marking time, and Petraeus is their excuse.
Republicans are lumbered with a president and vice-president who will not be running in the next election. The party elders believe popular anger at the war will lose them the White House in November 2008, but they do not believe an open rebellion against Bush's Iraq policy would achieve anything except splitting the party.
The Democrats smell victory in 2008 but are hypersensitive about accusations that they are betraying the troops, so they won't try to use their Congressional majorities to cut off funding for the war.
They also calculate, quite rightly, that it's the quagmire in Iraq that makes their victory in 2008 so likely, so why deprive themselves of the best stick to beat the Republicans with by shutting the war down prematurely?
All Petraeus had to do was promise that the number of troops in Iraq would be back down to last November's level by November 2008, hardly a significant concession since the U.S. Army could not sustain the surge past next summer anyway.
In effect, Bush's strategy has bought him two whole years with the U.S. troop level in Iraq at or above 130,000, but has it actually achieved anything else? Despite Petraeus's obligatory optimism, the answer is probably no.
There is no sign that the weak and divided Iraqi government will become cohesive and effective, or that the Iraqi army will become capable of independent operations. True, the number of bodies found in Baghdad every morning is down substantially, but that's mostly because the ethnic cleansing is largely complete. The Shias who used to live in Sunni-majority areas of the capital and the Sunnis who lived in Shia-majority areas have almost all fled or been killed, together with the Christians and other minorities, so fewer easy targets are available.
The much-touted pacification of Anbar province, once the heartland of the Sunni insurgency, is due to a de facto alliance between the U.S. Army and traditional tribal leaders whose authority was being usurped by al Qaeda's Mesopotamia fanatics.
But that doesn't mean that the sheikhs are reconciled to the rule of a Shia-majority government in Baghdad, let alone to the long-term presence of American troops in their province. They are just dealing with the most urgent enemy first.
The British are leaving southern Iraq to the rule of the militias. Open confrontation between the Kurds and the government in Baghdad over the territory around Kirkuk and Mosul in the north grows ever harder to avoid, but that confrontation would break the one alliance that provides a modicum of political stability at the centre.
The parliament's only achievement has been to resist the U.S.-backed oil bill that would open two-thirds of the nation's oil reserves to exploitation by foreign oil companies: well done, but hardly enough.
One Iraqi in seven has been forced out of his or her home and become a refugee (2 million abroad, and 2 million displaced within Iraq). U.S. military dead will reach the 4,000 mark by December and probably 5,000 by next year's election. Iraq is not fixed. It is not even on the mend.
The current American troop level, maybe even the pre-surge level, can freeze the situation for a time, but it creates only very temporary stability. Everybody is just waiting for Bush to leave office and the real American withdrawal to begin.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His most recent book, The Mess They Made: The Middle East After Iraq, is published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart.firstname.lastname@example.org