Have you heard the word? The war in Iraq is won.
Sure, we’ve heard “Mission Accomplished” before, but that was 3,699 American military deaths ago. But now, many insist, all signs are positive. The WMDs that triggered the war have been, of course, eliminated so totally that it’s almost as if they never existed at all. But that’s old news. There is fresh reason to cheer Iraqi developments, post-Petraeus surge.
From the pages of the Los Angeles Times to Fox News, from on-the-scene freelancer Michael Yon to the Wall Street Journal, facts and arguments about progress in Iraq of late paint a picture that’s no longer stained with blood and smoke stretching to endless horizons.
Al Qaedaesque insurgent action from Anbar to Basra is calming down. Sunni fighters are aiming not at U.S. troops, but at Al Qaeda troublemakers. From June to now, the military says, violence in and around Baghdad is down 59 percent; car bombs down 65 percent, with casualties from them and roadside bomb down 80 percent, and general casualties from enemy attacks in the entire nation down 77 percent.
The British Prospect recently summed up the general shape of the “Iraq is all right” story:
The country is whole. It has embraced the ballot box. It has created a fair and popular constitution. It has avoided all-out civil war. It has not been taken over by Iran. It has put an end to Kurdish and marsh Arab genocide, and anti-Shia apartheid. It has rejected mass revenge against the Sunnis. As shown in the great national votes of 2005 and the noisy celebrations of the Iraq football team's success in July, Iraq survived the Saddam Hussein era with a sense of national unity; even the Kurds—whose reluctant commitment to autonomy rather than full independence is in no danger of changing—celebrated. Iraq's condition has not caused a sectarian apocalypse across the region. The country has ceased to be a threat to the world or its region.
Not everyone is convinced that the Mighty Petraeus’ surge has succeeded, or is succeeding, or is at least bound to succeed any time soon—as Iraq is still a place in which “soldiers kill gunmen” and roadside bomb and mortar deaths are still mostly daily occurrences. Recent downturns in the violent mortality rate in Iraq have after all merely brought us back to late 2005 levels of carnage, back when a majority of Americans had already decided, mostly because of that ongoing carnage, that the war wasn’t worth fighting. Improvements in Anbar seem to be leading to deterioration in Ninevah, and, as Daniel Larison argues
every time we have been told that there has been progress in Iraq, some other part of Iraq has soon enough started going to hell after one part had seen a modicum of order restored. This is not a coincidence, and we have seen the same pattern since the first battle of Fallujah: success in one place simply pushes insurgents and bombers to some other part of the country, where they begin their attacks anew.
Other bad news possibilities: Turkey’s recent incursions into Iraqi Kurdish territory promise a whole new level of chaos. And a resurgent Iraqi nationalism, even if it doesn’t manifest itself in multiple daily bombings, could threaten U.S. goals down the line.
As we’ve learned in the years since hearts and flowers morphed before our horrified eyes into IEDs and mortars, there’s a great deal that can still go screwy in Iraq. Still, the trends are encouraging, and might have powerful and as yet unconsidered effects of American politics in 2008—and on U.S. foreign policy down the line.
The Iraq war is the American voters’ greatest concern when polled, and a majority of Americans have long been unhappy with how it is going. Still, even after their supposedly war-driven victories in 2006, most of the Democratic Party’s presidential frontrunners seem satisfied with a very, very slow wind-down that might not even be done by the end of their term. Congressional Democrats continue so far to fund the war. American politics seems less than responsive to this supposedly singular antiwar feeling of the people.
Just as public perception of whether the war was worth it didn’t shift toward “no” until May 2004—the first month U.S. troop deaths broke 100 in a month—a continuing decline in Iraq violence seems likely to calm down American dudgeon over a war that, after all, in a draftless world, most of us are affected by only as tragic TV entertainment. It could well be the standard accepted opinion a year from now that Iraq, while perhaps not always managed best every step of the way, has turned out well enough in the end, or so far.
Time can make every war seem like a good idea, or at least like not an obviously bad one. The progress of civilization being what it is, and people’s ability to gin up strong feelings about events far away in space and time being what they are, it can all start to seem For the Best. Some wicked regime gone (and don’t suggest they would ever have gone away without being conquered! Except for maybe Soviet Russia, but….), new buildings built, the dead largely forgotten.
Of course, such judgments depend on when you look. U.S. meddling in Iranian affairs seemed like a good idea to most until 1979; and Iraq today, or tomorrow, may seem like a victory until someone radicalized by the invasion and occupation dirty bombs New York in 2020.
After all, we can be pretty confident, barring eco-catastrophe or full-on nuclear World War III, that things will, someday, be better in Iraq—on the whole, for most people—than they are now, than they were in 2004, or than they were under Saddam.