The War And the Election

The decline in violence in Iraq has been reflected in a shift in public opinion since July. Charles Franklin looks at the data here. Jay Reding concludes:

1howwelliswargoing071106large_3 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.

Surely this gets well ahead of what we actually know. The causes of the current lull are, by most accounts, tactical success against "AQI" or some of the worst Islamist and Sunni terrorists, some Iranian restraint, Sadr's cease-fire, increased ethnic separation, Sunni abhorrence of al Qaeda, and exhaustion from chaos. But all of this is undergirded by a more solid US "surge" presence, which will depart next spring. After that? We just don't know. We do know that national political reconciliation hasn't happened, and may be further away than ever. We do know that this was the actual point of the surge. And there are ominous indicators that any declaration of "Mission Accomplished" is premature:

Though Sunni extremist groups could revive and “reinfest very quickly,” General Fil said, Iraq’s leaders should now have the peace they need to build a trusted, cross-sectarian government. But progress toward that, he said, has been “disappointing.”

Soon, General Fil said, there will be fewer troops for the Iraqis to rely on. “Already we are at a point where we’ll see that as the surge forces depart the city, we’ll see a natural decline in numbers, and I’m very comfortable where that comes to,” he said.

Violence in Iraq may also be merely shifting geographically as in the past:

Violence, meanwhile, despite recent declines in some areas, has moved to some degree to rural villages and towns from major cities, American and Iraqi commanders said. On Wednesday, two children were killed when a roadside bomb exploded on a farm road in Wasit Province. South of Baquba, Iraqi army patrols found 17 bodies, blindfolded, handcuffed and decayed. Four were found headless about 200 yards away. It was the second mass grave discovered in a rural area this week.

American troops have recently focused more operations on the farm towns and dusty villages of the country, with the latest coming this week outside Kirkuk in the north.

We have stabilized the patient, not brought him out of critical condition. And the doctors leave next spring. Iraq could well not just be in the next campaign; it could well be the biggest issue.