Two powerful newspaper columns today — one by Ralph Peters and the other by Rich Lowry — make the point that in these days, when almost all the news from Iraq is positive and hopeful, the war has practically vanished from the front pages.
Peters, who was writing in tones of deep pessimism about the Iraq effort as early as summer 2003 and with passionate anger at the policies of the Rumsfeld Pentagon until the day Donald Rumsfeld departed at the end of 2006 — writes: “The situation has changed so unmistakably and so swiftly that we should be reading proud headlines daily. Where are they? Is it really so painful for all those war-porno journos to accept that our military — and the Iraqis — may have turned the situation around? Shouldn’t we read and see and hear a bit of praise for today’s soldiers and the progress they’re making?”
This is Lowry: “In Israel, there’s a law that bans reporting on sensitive national-security operations; you could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. has a similar ban on any encouraging news from the hottest battlefront in the war on terror. The United States might be the only country in world history that reverse-propagandizes itself, magnifying its setbacks and ignoring its successes so that nothing can disturb what Sen. Joe Lieberman calls the ‘narrative of defeat.’”
Still, no matter how invested many people are in the “narrative of defeat,” that narrative cannot be sustained if the seeds of progress planted in Iraq over the past four months flourish and begin to bear exactly the kind of fruit everyone has been waiting for.
Which raises another interesting question: What will be the political effect of a growing national sense that there will be a positive outcome to our tormented efforts in Iraq, especially since the timing suggests the change (if it is real and lasting) will become clear to Americans some time during the coming election year?
On the one hand, it is unalloyedly good news for Republicans. If things in Iraq look bad in the fall of 2008, it will be almost impossible for a Republican to win. A change for the better is a necessary precondition for a possible Republican victory.
On the other hand, maybe the politician who benefits the most would be: Hillary Clinton. Her have-it-all-ways position on the war in Iraq — she voted for it, she now thinks it was a mistake, Bush mishandled it, she won’t pick a date certain to end it, she’s against it but she can’t say we won’t still have troops there by the end of a putative Clinton presidency — may be reasonably close to the general American mood about Iraq on Election Day 2008.
In this scenario, the thorniest foreign-policy issue in the 2008 election will not be Iraq, but Iran.