One of the characteristics of wars, or at least many of them, is that they are won by the side that reaches breaking point a day or two after the other side has already broken. This is one of the many reasons it's so hard to really know what's going on in a war, until after it's over. Often, it takes years to piece together the evidence and figure out what really happened.
I can reel off a rather good concise description of the stages of WW2 (tho not WW1, which for all my attempts I've never managed to understand). I can do the same for the first Israeli-Arab war, in 1947-49, though of course the magnitude is totally different in that case. But there were four stages, each with its own characteristics, and so on. Since much of the drivel presented these days about the Israeli-Arab conflict could benefit from a dose of simple facts, this ability of mine comes in useful from time to time.
It wouldn't occur to me to claim to understand the war in Iraq. It was more or less simple for a few weeks in Spring 2003, but never again since. To be honest, I don't even try too hard to follow the various warring parties, political parties, partial and impartial pundits, and all the rest. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm a total ignoramus. I'm a reasonably intelligent consumer of media reports, blogs, and so on, and I'll bet I could hold my own in discussion with most people. But I don't read Arabic, I don't know how to evaluate the various reports, and I do know that most of the reporters, of all groups, don't know much either... war being what war is.
Still, there are patterns. In 2006 the violence was horrendous by any reasonable criteria; sometime in 2007 the surge, or something totally different that happened at the same time, or perhaps it was the lineup of Jupiter with Pluto behind Mars or some such - whatever it was, the violence partially subsided. It's still horrendous, but there's apparently less of it. In recent weeks, I've been seeing more and more reports like this one: the Economist telling about political progress.
Is there a pattern? Will future historians include it in their two-minute synapses of the 2nd American War in Iraq?