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About That De-baathification Reform...

Don't miss today's front-page Washington Post story on the re-Baathification law the Iraqi parliament just passed, which Brad already linked to below. Upon closer inspection, the law looks more like just another effort at de-Baathification--rather than foster sectarian reconciliation, it's just as likely to lead to another purge of mid-level ex-Baathists. Even more depressing is that at this morning's Brookings Institution panel on Iraq, surge proponent Michael O'Hanlon cited the law as the only noteworthy instance of political progress in Iraq. In the other areas discussed (hydrocarbon legislation, a federalism law, provincial election law, a referendum on the status of Kirkuk), O'Hanlon conceded that little or no headway has been made. In fact, he sounded decidedly less sanguine than he did in Sunday's op-ed co-authored with surge architects Frederick Kagan and Jack Keane, though he did still take the time to criticize the Democratic presidential candidates for offering troop-reduction proposals that he deemed "not helpful."

As it becomes clearer that political progress in Iraq is not significantly closer than it was before the surge, it's easy to see this turning into a major problem for John McCain. The success of the surge in improving the security situation seems to have convinced most Democrats that Iraq will be on the back burner during the general-election campaign. At some point in the near future, though--possibly right after he locks up the Republican nomination, as the surge winds down--McCain's going to have to start saying something about the future of Iraq besides "the surge worked." His position (expressed most clearly in his now-infamous "hundred years" remark) seems to be that as long as American casualties are low, it's worth maintaining a sizable force there indefintiely, political situation be damned. This is, to state the obvious, a wildly unpopular view. Mitt Romney would have a far easier time pivoting to the slightly more politically viable Republican position: the surge was good and it created one last chance for political progress, and if we don't see it within [insert desired number of Friedman Units here], we'll draw down troops. Combined with Romney's credibility advantage discussing economic matters, I'm wondering if the conventional Democratic wisdom that McCain is a far stronger general-election candidate than Romney is (at the very least) a bit overstated.

--Josh Patashnik