Testifying before Congress yesterday, the U.S.'s chief commander in Iraq, Ray Odierno, pointedly refused to say whether he thought U.S. combat troops would be in Iraq past 2011. Whatever the remnant, it will be small. It's a mundane point, noticing that Iraq, which expanded to become an umbrella under which everything soaked by the Bush administration was discredited, is no longer an issue of relevance to the political debate. A quick distinction must be made between an important issue -- one that people care about -- and a relevant issue -- one that people vote about. Afghanistan remains an important issue, and yet there are signs that, by 2010, it will have turned into a relevant issue, even if the contours of the debate stay roughly the same. Relevance is related to salience and immediacy more than import. It's the type of issue that will raise the temperature of the partisan heat map in midterm elections, the sort of issue that independents will use to identify against the party in power.
Or then again, maybe it won't. It's not lost on Obama administration officials that, when Barack Obama ran for president, Iraq was the wrong war, and Afghanistan was -- well, if it wasn't exactly the good war, it was well off the radar screen -- important but not relevant -- and they used it to frame a message about the Bush administration and Republicans that truly resonated: they chose the wrong country and diverted focus off of the real threat. By the time Obama was elected, the Bush administration had basically gifted him a way to fulfill the promise that brought him to prominence -- a withdrawal consensus that was itself a bastard child of poor decisions. No heavy lifting required.