After a couple of days worth of chaotic retreat, the right wing seems to have settled on a fallback position, namely that it’s only possible to now contemplate withdrawing from Iraq because things have gotten so much better and all improvements in conditions — including things that happened before the surge began — are due to the surge. Thus, despite Obama apparently having shown good judgment on the question of invading Iraq and seeming to have the best policy moving forward, “really” McCain is vindicated.
In addition to the somewhat magical thinking in which things like the “awakening,” the Sadrist cease fire, and the natural reduction in violence that comes with a completed process of ethnic cleansing become consequences of the surge, this misses the larger point of the surge debate. Surge opponents said the surge was pointless — a tactical smokescreen to obscure the fact that hawks have an unworkable strategy. And now, over 18 months after the 2006 midterms showed that the voters want an end to this war, the hawks still can’t explain what’s been accomplished in exchange for the hundreds of dead and hundreds of billions spent over what, say, following the Baker-Hamilton recommendations would have cost us. The basic shape of the Middle East is the same, our posture in Iraq is still unsustainable, we’re still getting nowhere with Iran, and things are worse than ever in Afghanistan. Probably, but not certainly, the surge has helped save some Iraqi lives. But fundamentally, we’re still going to have to leave Iraq and it’s still the case — just as it was before the war — that Iraq might muddle along okay or might turn into a disaster all depending on what choices Iraqi leaders make.