Kudos to the New York Times for presenting this even-keeled update on the still-precarious security situation in Basra.
Get used to this model for combat operations in Iraq: the actual, on-the-ground "muscle" is going to be Iraqi, while Americans will continue to provide support in the forms of transportation, logistics, intelligence, and the always-critical close air support which will tip the scales in favor of the Iraqi Army against foreign-backed militias that are often better-armed and equipped.
Then, once the bullets stop flying, the next Americans you'll see will be there to rebuild what was destroyed, and help establish institutions that will encourage the development of civil society and the rule of law.
Who are these people?
They are your Civil Affairs specialists. They have had enormous successes in the form of PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) all throughout Afghanistan (Weekly Standard just ran a piece on Khost). They currently have the coolest mission in Kosovo (Dave from the VFW, thanks for the debrief on that one). They are in more parts of Iraq doing more daily outside-the-wire missions than almost any other community. They are also working in the Horn and across the Sahel doing everything from preventive medicine to infrastructure building to educational development.
In addition to all that, they *do* tsunamis (Indonesia), earthquakes (Pakistan), hurricanes (New Orleans) and any other disaster that befalls a country whose leadership isn't so anti-US that they'd rather have people die than allow in dudes with green uniforms and the stars and stripes on their shoulders.
Remember, as everyone from John Abizaid to Peter Pace to David Petraeus often reminds us, GWOT (Global War on Terror) is going to be a generations-long struggle. The 'kinetic' phase of operations will be the shortest and easiest part. The hardest part will be the aftermath -- building lasting institutions and partnerships that will allow the involved countries to not degenerate the way Afghanistan did after "we" won "Charlie Wilson's War" in the 1980s.
The people that are going to do it are those with an affinity for foreign cultures, an aptitude for language, an interest in economic development, and a desire to jump out of perfectly good airplanes.
It just so happens that the Massachusetts Natty Guard needs people for this at the O-3 (Captain) level. It also just so happens that I'll put on O-3 next spring and already live in Mass.
That's why I'm self-prophesying a blue-to-green transition sometime around then, which means I'm probably going to start driving soldiers nuts by calling the "latrine" the "head," the "bed" the "rack" and reminding them to "sailor on" through the tough times.
Just kidding about that last one. I promise not to tell any specialists or corporals to "sailor on."