January 3, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Iraq: No news is good news

After all the flurry about "the surge" in mid-summer, Iraq seems to have faded from the public's attention, which in one sense is good news. Only 21 American servicemen died in Iraq last month, the lowest number since February 2004. The number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq has been declining each month since it hit a peak of 121 in May. The downside of the good news is that the ongoing sacrifices of the soldiers who are still fighting in Iraq are not getting adequate attention. I hope this hasn't diminished contributions to the USO and other organizations that are devoted to supporting our military personnel.

Even many war opponents have begun to grudgingly admit that the surge policy has paid off in terms of stabilizing Iraq -- at least for the time being. As one would expect, the military situation in Iraq has improved noticeably over the last several months, thanks to the 25,000+ reinforcements sent by our Commander In Chief. If the situation had not improved after making such a big effort, critics would be correct to say that the war is lost. As of now, all we can say for sure is that we stand a very good chance of achieving our long-term security objectives -- as long as our leaders in Washington do not flinch under pressure. That is why the real battlefield in this struggle is not in the alleys of Baghdad or in Anbar Province, but on Capitol Hill. President Bush's gamble that he could achieve concrete results in Iraq without having to confront a security challenge elsewhere in the world appears to have paid off. Successful? Yes. Prudent? No. It is obvious that we can't keep this up this level of military commitment forever, and regardless of who is elected president, most of the burden of security will be shifted to the Iraqis themselves after January 2009.

When General Petraeus began to testify to Congress in September, many war opponents scoffed at what they perceived as a "whitewash." Since then, there is no question that Iraq has become much more secure overall. True, the terrorist threat posed by the Kurdish PPK has created a border conflict with Turkey, which may destabilize the region. Also, the withdrawal of most British combat troops from the Basra area in the south has left a power vacuum which has yet to be resolved. Finally, there remains a possibility that the terrorist insurgents are taking a breather and preparing for a "Tet" style offensive just before the 2008 presidential elections, hoping to put a pacifist president in the White House. So, even though this war is going well for the moment, it is far from being won.