Before Barack Obama can get his presidential hands on the Iraq War, it might end, not in disaster as he figures, but in an American victory.
He, his fans and much of the media haven't noticed in the heat of the presidential campaign, but the war is winding down, if not nearing its end. Fewer military and civilians killed or wounded; fewer insurgent attacks; more order and security, especially in such troubled areas as Basra and Sadr City; more reconciliation; improved quality of life, and—not the least—greater liberties.
Still, Obama's perspective remains unchanged. There's no accommodation to changed circumstances, only his iron-willed pandering to anti-war voters. As of this writing, his campaign's Web site proclaims: "Obama would immediately begin to pull out troops engaged in combat operations at a pace of one or two brigades every month, to be completed by the end of next year." Who knows, at the pace of progress in Iraq, maybe the troops could come home even quicker. But for Obama to withdraw troops faster than his stone-set timetable, he would have to acknowledge the progress Iraq has made. And explain how he would continue that progress. He would have to be as responsible as The Washington Post, which in a June 1 editorial noted: "Don't look now, but the U.S.-backed [Iraqi] government and army may be winning the war." The Post, ever critical of the policies of President Bush, could never be confused with drooling neocons.
No one should be uncorking the champagne and breaking out the ticker tape, and it is convenient for me—a war supporter—to quote the Post when it supports my position. So, let's turn to the Brookings Institution's "Iraq Index," which from the start has tried and succeeded to be the war's most objective observer.
It shows that civilian deaths, which a year ago numbered in the thousands a month, are down dramatically, although the hundreds still dying are way too many. Also dropping remarkably is the number of U.S.troops killed and wounded.
The number of Iraqi forces deployed is steadily increasing while the number of attacks against U.S. and other coalition forces is down dramatically. So is the number of Iraqi police and military personnel killed each month. The number of joint security stations and combat outposts, which are security checkpoints in strategic areas throughout Baghdad and manned 24 hours a day by U.S. and Iraqi security forces, has more than doubled. The number of multiple fatality bombings has dropped considerably, testimony to the greater security brought by the surge.
There have been no kidnappings of foreign nationals—once a standard tactic for insurgents—for the last year. Attacks on Iraqi oil and gas personnel and installations (e.g. pipelines) have nearly disappeared. Measures of political and press freedoms have improved appreciably, more children are attending school, more judges are being trained. Quality-of-life indicators have improved. Gross domestic product is more than twice what it was before the war. There has been an explosion of telephone and Internet use, of independent media and car ownership.
Since the surge has succeeded, war opponents have redirected their criticism: The Iraqis, critics say, have made no progress on the political front, which was supposed to be the point of the surge. The Iraq Index authors, Michael O'Hanlon and Jason Campbell, don't agree; they see a glass half full. On a scale of 0-to-1, the authors give a score of 0.5 to six benchmark categories dealing with de-Baathification, amnesty, purging extremists from government, security-force hiring, distribution of federal funding to provinces and allocation of provincial powers. Progress on issues dealing with Kirkuk, a permanent hydrocarbons law and provincial elections scored zero. In other words, progress on political benchmarks totaled five out of a possible 11. Not bad when you consider it took America 11 years after its independence to set up a workable form of government in the Constitution.
This is not to say that Iraq isn't a violent, dangerous place. And, of course, serious problems remain, such as inflation and unemployment. But Iraq isn't the same place that it was a year ago, which is one change that Obama needs to recognize.
Instead of just talking about change, Obama should start showing how he will adapt to change and continue the progress that the Bush administration achieved in Iraq.