It hasn't become much of a campaign issue--yet--but for the first time in a long while the news from Iraq isn't unrelentingly ghastly. Some previously hard-to-imagine glimmers of hope are now emerging. Of course there are a thousand caveats here, and Slate's Phil Carter has a good summation of them. But this weekend an experienced Iraq correspondent--someone who has been extremely bleak about the war in the past--told me he thinks it's really possible that the country is turning a corner.
Which raises all sorts of secondary but fascinating political questions: What do the Democrats do if--yes: if, if, if--the surge appears to have succeeded? (Or at least seems, to voters, to have succeeded: I realize the tribal shift in Anbar, for instance, wasn't imposed by US troops--although my correspondent friend said surge forces did enable us to exploit Sunni tribal cooperation and root out al Qaeda.) Indeed, if Iraq somehow stabilizes and even incrementally improves, doesn't that affect the presidential campaign in important and unpredictable ways? Obviously it's almost impossible to concieve of an outcome in Iraq that any reasonable person could call "victory." Democrats will resonably argue that the adventure wasn't worth the cost in lives and dollars. But the notion that Bush's patience really did save Iraq from unmitigated humanitarian and strategic catastrophe might be a powerful one. Expectations have been lowered to such an extent over the past several months that any glimmer of hope is a godsend for Republicans. I suspect Americans are pining for anything they can declare good news, and want to believe we haven't been humiliated after all. With a touch of evidentiary wind at his back, then, it may be far easier for, say, a Rudy Giuliani to argue "See? Things are getting better! I told you so"! than for a Hillary Clinton to dourly say, "Maybe, but it still wasn't worth it."
I'm not arguing that the surge has "worked," or that Iraq is hunky-dory and the whole nightmare is about to be redeemed. Lord knows there have been plenty of illusory moments of hope in the past. I'm just suggesting that beneath all the current clamor about Hillary's honesty and gender, a tectonic shift might be quietly developing. And I wonder whether the Democrats have been preparing for that possibility--and what their contingency plans are if the Iraq debate tacks substantially back the GOP's way.
[Photo via IraqPictures]