WASHINGTON, D.C.—Even the most bitter skeptics about the U.S.-led war in Iraq must have paused, ever so briefly, over their morning coffee. The lead story in today’s New York Times, placed above the fold, carries this headline: “Baghdad Starts to Exhale as Security Improves.” The article, by Damien Cave and Alissa J. Rubin, reported undeniable progress in the security situation in Baghdad, with significant numbers of families returning to their homes:
“The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March…As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city.”
The forces of religious extremism, including those of al Qaeda, appear to be in retreat. This assessment from America’s most influential liberal newspaper, based in part on at least 50 interviews of residents throughout Baghdad, echoes Sunday's editorial in the liberal Washington Post:
“The evidence is now overwhelming that the ‘surge’ of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war—total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs—there has been an enormous improvement since January.”
This breath of good news demands sober qualifications, of course: We don’t really know how firm or fragile the security situation remains, and we still don’t know what political progress toward reconciliation and a stable, representative government is being made—or is possible in the short term. The roughly 20,000 Iraqis who have returned to their Baghdad homes represent a fraction of the more than 4 million who reportedly fled nationwide. Some supporters of the Iraq war, though noting these uncertainties, are nevertheless sanguine: “What we are seeing unfold in Iraq, under the leadership of General David Petraeus and his team,” writes Pete Wehner, for Commentary magazine, “may well rank as among the most extraordinary military turnabouts in our history.” See here for more.
Given the fumblings, miscalculations, delusions, and heartbreaking violence over the last three years, any speculation about “the most extraordinary military turnabouts” in American history seems premature. A fuller admission by the Bush administration of the extraordinary failures of its strategy in Iraq would be in order—and may be a more prudent way to help shore up American support to sustain and exploit these real and meaningful gains in security.