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, the American military says.
As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.
Abu Muqawama isn't sure when "Open Liquor Stores, Number of" became a way to measure success in counterinsurgency, but in all seriousness this article from today's New York Times is important for two reasons:
One, President Bush's harshest critics have to admit the "surge" has seen some stunning military successes. There is a real danger that in their rush to criticize the president (or, in some cases, run for president themselves) Democrats are going to ignore some really important things that have been taking place in Iraq over the past year. To a large degree, the U.S. military has "cracked the code" on counterinsurgency, echoing the testimony I heard from an officer friend of mine in the British Army expressing disbelief at how quickly the U.S. military was learning, on the ground, in Iraq. The U.S. military doesn't have it all figured out, but at least now they know what they have to do to give the mission a chance of success. This has huge implications for U.S. policy going forward, even if the bulk of U.S. ground troops eventually leave Iraq. What happens, at the very least, if we transition the tactics and resources on the ground in Iraq to Afghanistan? What might the NATO coalition achieve there? And there is a political danger that if Democrats seem ideologically blinded to the successes in Iraq, the American public will think they're just as crazy as the neo-conservatives who got the U.S. into this mess in the first place. Liberals in America cannot allow themselves to become ideologically wed to the narrative of defeat.
Two, as the Washington Post pointed out on Sunday, military successes such as these mean nothing if political reconciliation doesn't keep pace with them. If Abu Muqawama were advising a presidential candidate on either side of the aisle, he would be telling them to spend 60% of their Iraq speech praising the way in which U.S. military units have performed over the past year and then the remaining 40% of the speech demanding why our Iraqi "allies" and the Bush Administration haven't made more of an effort to turn transitory military successes into concrete political gains.
Yesterday, Abu Muqawama compared President Bush to J.D. Drew, the undeniably talented right fielder for the Boston Red Sox who always looks as if he would rather be doing something other than the job he's getting paid to do. One of the readers commented that at least J.D. Drew hits a grand slam in the playoffs every once in a while. Time to step up to the plate, then, George.