What If It Works?

The New Republic‘s The Stump political blog asks the question what the political consequences of a successful “surge” in Iraq will be. To be honest, I think we already know the answer.

The importance of Iraq to the 2008 elections is already fading as an issue. As the situation in Iraq slowly begins to improve, the amount of attention it gets from the media decreases. (Unless, of course, they can find some new “grim milestone” to report about.) The reality of the conflict in Iraq is that much of what we set out to do has been done, and now our job is to allow the Iraqis to make the best of their own situation. With the Awakening movements spreading across the country and al-Qaeda being run out, it’s looking less and less likely that Iraq will be a cesspool of terrorism. It may be a fragile democracy that takes years to get over its sectarian conflicts, but that’s to be expected. As I said before the war, in many ways the political development of Iraq will be easier than in Afghanistan, which has never had the sort of modern infrastructure and development that Iraq had.

The diminishing importance of Iraq actually benefits the Democrats. For one, even if we do achieve something close to victory in Iraq the media narrative will be that it was in spite of Bush rather than because it. (Even though it was Bush who stuck it through while the Democrats wanted to bug out.) We’ll see the Democrats return to their 2004 message of “we’ll do it smarter” which is a much more tenable position for them to be in than “let’s get the hell out of here.” Hillary Clinton’s votes to start the war will seem less consequential if it turns out well. Even more importantly, it lets the Democrats focus on domestic issues where they have greater strength.

I don’t believe Iraq will be the top issue in 2008. I’m not so sure it will be a top issue. If I had to prognosticate, I’d say the top issues will be corruption, immigration, entitlement reform and health care, not necessarily in that order. That’s the way that the political landscape appears to be shifting already, and those trends seem likely to continue.

What has happened in Iraq is that the fuel has been removed from the fire. The Sunnis realize that they’re in a battle they can’t win and now want a place at the table. Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army have been forced to call a truce before they ended up once again being killed in the streets for making everyone’s lives miserable. Al-Qaeda has been battered from all sides and no longer can find safe harbor anywhere in Iraq. Now that the Sunnis have rejected them, they have nowhere to go. Even the Iranians seem to be backing down from their attempts to control Iraq.

We will almost certainly have some forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future, just as precaution and a training force for Iraq police and military. However, we won’t have 100,000+ soldiers there inevitably. Given the way in which the Iraqis themselves are finally taking increasing responsibility for their own country and the security situation is improve, the real conflict in Iraq will be in the halls of their Parliament and not in the streets.

Whatever the political consequences of that may be for us at home, it’s certainly good news for Iraq. After years of war, they finally have a real shot at normalcy, and that means more for the future of this world than who wins the next election in the US.

3 thoughts on “What If It Works?

  1. Your political calculation here couldn’t be more off. Voters still want America OUT of Iraq after four and a half fruitless years. Whatever progress has been made on the ground in Iraq in the last few months is not going to convince a supermajority of Americans to spend a quarter-trillion dollars per year in Iraq until 2013. It’s only when Democratic Presidential candidates tell us they’ll keep troops in Iraq throughout their first term where the Democrats lose credibility. Running on the 2004 message of fighting the Iraqi quagmire “better than the Republicans would” is not gonna suffice.

    The nominal containment of Iraqi insurgents makes it harder in the current environment of divided government to instigate a drawing down of troops, but that will only sharpen the Democratic message of replacing Bush with a pro-withdrawal Democrat. I have little expectation that the Iraq policies of Hillary, Obama, or Edwards would vary greatly from Bush’s once they got into office, but if their primary motivation is to get to the White House, running on a campaign message of establishing a near-term timeline for withdrawal is the way to do it.

  2. Actually, the NBC poll out today says otherwise. When asked to name two issues in which America is most in need of a new direction and a new approach, people named health care as #1 and Iraq as #2. Unfortunately for Republicans, the stances on more funding for troops and SCHIP aren’t helping you out very much.

    I would say that the number of people saying it’s important has no bearing whatsoever on how the war is going. The “if it isn’t polling as high, it MUST be going well” line of reasoning is better suited for Monty Python. More likely is the fact that Democrats have found a new issue to hammer the GOP on that’s less divisive, so they are pushing SCHIP more than Iraq.

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