barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What's left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence.
Now John McCain has modified the tense on his "we are succeeding" claim:
“And we have succeeded. … I hope [Barack Obama] gets the message this time that we have succeeded and we need to continue the strategy.”
By using the word “succeeded,” McCain was making somewhat of a rhetorical shift. The presumptive GOP nominee usually couches his language and argues the troop surge is “succeeding.”
On Thursday he emphasized that strategic success already has been achieved.
“I am happy to stand in front of you to tell you that this strategy has succeeded. It has succeeded. It has succeeded,” McCain said first at a Kansas City, Mo., town hall meeting.
He then reiterated the line for reporters aboard his campaign bus.
“I repeat my statement that we have succeeded in Iraq — not we are succeeding — we have succeeded in Iraq,” he said. “The strategy has worked and we now have the Iraqi government and military in charge in the major cities in Iraq. Al Qaeda is on their heels and on the run.”
George Bush, in conjunction with the Iraqi government, has endorsed the notion of some sort of hazy timeline for US troop withdrawals.
The Weekly Standard argues that this is all bad for Barack:
Obama, in typical fashion, is trying to use the success of the surge he opposed to justify his long-held commitment to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq as quickly as possible. But turning Iraq into a winning political issue won't be nearly as easy as Obama once thought. He has stepped into a trap of his own making.
The trap was set when Obama repeatedly insisted that his superior "judgment" on Iraq is more important than experience in national security affairs. Judgment, according to Obama, is what qualifies him to be commander in chief. So what can we discern about Obama's judgment on the surge, easily the most important national security decision since the Iraq war began in March 2003?
Well, yes. Obama opposed the war in Iraq and the surge. McCain supported the concept of the liberation of Iraq but was an early critic of the troop levels and tactics adopted by Bush and Rumsfeld and an early proponent of the surge. On that scorecard, McCain is an easy winner.
But will voters care? A segment of the far left will never abandon their notion that Iraq is Bush's lost war and will continue to insist that US troops be brought home post-haste, thereby "ending" the war (as if "no US involvement" equals "no war"; how is that working in Darfur?).
But if the current greatly reduced level of casualties can be sustained and the Iraqi government continues to show signs of credibility, most people will shift their attention elsewhere. And if the emerging Washington consensus is that US troops should remain in Iraq to preserve the fragile progress, well, I have no doubt Barack will get behind that conventional wisdom.
Which means voters will not be presented with a clear choice between a candidate committed to achieving victory in Iraq and a candidate committed to declaring Bush's war to be a defeat. Instead, we will have a choice between a candidate who would have avoided Bush's mess and a candidate who would have been better at cleaning it up. That debate will fascinate historians and pundits but no one else. [Liz Sidoti of the AP has more on this blurriness].
If Democrats are going to take office in January 2009 with a commitment to victory in Iraq and without the intention of cutting, running, and blaming Bush, that (somewhat) neutralizes one of the few issues where righties feel comfortable with McCain. In brief, this much good news from Iraq is bad news for McCain, and good news for the country.
MORE: The Economist offered another reason to think that Obama will re-consider his plans for a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq - it makes no sense:
In fact, Mr Obama’s plan to shift America’s priorities towards Afghanistan probably depends on winning in Iraq if it is to succeed. He would find it much harder to repair America’s alliances while clamping down on Iran and putting pressure on Pakistan if he were to let Iraq lapse into chaos by withdrawing the bulk of America’s force there precipitately. Mr Obama still hints that he understands that. He spoke this week of making “tactical adjustments” to his plans as conditions in Iraq change. That leaves him a little room to keep troops in a bit longer.
SIDEBAR: Maybe Laura is going to have to hit the bookstores. This was from an old post:
I assume people can find defenders of Bush here in the wide, wild and glorious web. But if you coming looking here, it will have to be among the commenters, bless them. For myself, I would put disappointment in his handling of Iraq at number one - the failure to develop a well-thought through post-liberation administration plan for Iraq is inexplicable; the fact that major decisions, such as disbanding the Iraq army, were made seemingly on the fly is inexcusable.
Well, Bush is not on the ticket in 2008. My suggested punishment of Bush - deny him access to Harry Truman biographies; I just know "W" is sustaining himself with the notion that Harry was booed out of office after the debacle in Korea but eventually staged a huge comeback in popular and historical opinion.
If that happens with Bush, well, bully for him - it would be great for America if the Bush-instigated surge has created an opportunity for something like a non-defeat in Iraq, and if Bush gets some credit for grit and resolution down the road, well, fine. But he has squandered America's good will around the world, divided our nation, and strained our military to the breaking point fighting a war which never should have been this difficult (or, if it was always going to be this difficult, should never have been fought).
I stand by my derogation. But maybe in ten years I will always have been a Bush stalwart. Here's hoping!
STILL MORE: Cecil Turner delivers a helpful spine-stiffener. His intro:
I don't care for the partisan politicization of ongoing wars, regardless of direction. Speaking from a former front-line combat perspective, nothing matters more than the perception that the citizens at home are committed to the cause for which they sent troops into harm's way. Once we decide as a nation to send troops into war, we all have a duty to support them (unless and until we actually decide to pull the plug). The moral dimension of war is the most important one; it's far more important than minor winges about less-than-optimal operational decisions.