Daily attacks continue, but at a fraction of 2006 levels--indeed, at levels not seen since before the Sadrist and Falluja rebellions began in April of 2004. Al Qaeda in Iraq still has the capability to ignite the occasional car bomb, but it has been weakened to the point of defeat. The real estate market in Baghdad is beginning to blossom. And on a broader front, as reported in The New Yorker and The New Republic, Al Qaeda's wanton butchery is facing an intellectual challenge from within its own ranks.Now, what's stunning is following all of this, here is Klein's conclusion.
Indeed, the successful operations in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul have had a completely unexpected effect on the stature of the formerly hapless Nouri Al-Maliki: At a recent cabinet meeting after the Sadr City operation, the entire room stood when Maliki entered, a sign of newfound respect for a leader who was regarded as
little more than a place-holder only months ago.
But the tide of good news is unmistakeable. I'm told that Petraeus will probably resume withdrawals after his 45-day pause--which fits neatly into Army rotation
schedules. All of which raises the question, what if any role is Iraq going to play in the U.S. election?
Well, there is the question of long-term U.S. bases and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) now being negotiated by the Bush and Maliki governments. The Bush Administration, the Kaganite neocons and John McCain have been dreaming of arrangements like those the U.S. military has enjoyed in Germany and Korea. No chance of that. As the Washington Post reports today, the Iraqis are pretty much opposed to a big U.S. presence...and so is the American public. My guess, backed by reporting, is that four years from now, if current trends continue, there will be about 30,000 U.S. forces stationed at 3 or 4 bases in Iraq--a troop level that Barack Obama would probably endorse. It is extremely unlikely, given the natural truculence of Iraqis (for which they are famous in the region), that those 30,000 would be allowed to remain in perpetuity.
In all this, we should be clear on one thing: Even if the optimistic scenarios prevail, this war was a mistake from beginning to end. It was a scandalous waste of lives, money and American prestige. It diverted U.S. attention from the real threat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan--a war that still needs to be won. The threat of neoconservative neocolonialism overseas remains a real problem--and it is likely to be the fault line on which the foreign policy debate takes place in the coming presidential campaign. But those who oppose neocon arrogance and intransigence have to do so from facts, and an acknowledgment of the reality on the ground--an acknowledgment of the brilliant work done in the past year in Iraq by the U.S. military, an acknowledgment that the Iraqis just may have grown tired of killing each other. And with a demand that the troops come home as quickly as possible.
Now, this is amazing analysis on several levles. While Klein grudgingly admits that there is stunning progress in Iraq, he seems to overlook the reason for that success. That is the new surge counter insurgency strategy of General David Petraeus. This is the strategy that was championed by John McCain while most of the rest of the Washington establishment was running for cover. In fact, when it was of maximum political risk, John McCain went to the Virginia Military Academy and made this speech in defense of that strategy.
Furthermore, this is a strategy that was questioned and criticized from the beginning by his opponent Barack Obama. More than that, Barack Obama has promised a radical new strategy involving time lines for withdrawal that have in no way been endorsed by the author of the strategy, General David Petraeus.
Rather than focusing on this very important issue, Klein focuses a great deal on whether or not we maintain bases in Iraq. That question is wholly unimportant compared to the question of which candidate will continue to support the very strategy that he just grudgingly admitted is working. In reality, Joe Klein has just admitted that on the most important issue facing this election, the issue of war, the candidate he supports, Barack Obama, cannot be trusted, while his opponent, at great political risk, supported a strategy that even Klein admits is working. Later in the piece, Klein projects that troop levels would be at levels that Obama could live with. That is wholly besides the point and it isn't how it works. Iraqi progress is not supposed to suit the troop projections that Barack Obama wants. Barack Obama is supposed to be trusted to carry out proper foreign policy including being wise enough to support good strategic war fare. Obama can't spend the better part of two years criticizing a policy that worked, and then take it over and take credit for it. The bottom line is that even Klein admits that the strategy has worked marvelously, and what this means is that on this very important issue John McCain could NOT have been more RIGHT, and Barack Obama could NOT have been more WRONG.
Furthermore, it is even more stunning that Klein can also say that even though we will win this war it was still a mistake. For the first time in military history, a successful military campaign was also a strategic blunder. Apparently, in the mind of Klein only, the fact that we will have won is not in and of itself proof that the strategy was right. If that is not enough for Klein, though, maybe I can offer the fact that Iraq will go from a vicious terror enabling dictatorship to a democratic government that will be an ally in the GWOT. In other words, through our victory we will have turned a nation from a strategic enemy into an ally. If that isn't enough to make a war a strategic success nothing is.