Now that the election is behind us, how will the discussion of Iraq change? Here's my guess:
- Without Bush and his advisers running the show, many people will be ready to hear more about what's happening in Iraq, not in Washington. To put it less politely, without a President who still seems to think that you win a counterinsurgency war by killing every insurgent, until none of them are left, many Americans will be less worried about how the man in the Oval Office is screwing up the prosecution of the war.
- For those who have lost track of what's happening in Iraq, the current reality may come as a bit of a surprise. Things have changed. The Iraqi military and police now have functioning units. Running battles like the siege of Fallujah are no longer the norm. Violence is still a daily fact of life, but it has mutated into a different form. Whether or not the status quo constitutes victory, or is pointing in the direction of victory, is beyond the scope of this small post.
- The Iraq drama will feature a new cast. The new reality of Iraq begs an important question: which Americans have been most important in contributing to these changes? The answer largely lies below the level of people who give White House or Pentagon briefings. Instead, the center of Iraq strategy has shifted to the middle levels of military and civilian organizations, more along the lines that Bing West describes in The Strongest Tribe, or many contributors to the Small Wars Journal or Parameters have described.
- Reflexive mockery will become less prevalent. I'm not sure if many bloggers are quite ready for this cultural shift. What will it be like to write about America's wars, without the immediate assumption that the people in charge are incompetent?
- Attention to Iraq may be hard to sustain. The new Iraq narrative is likely to be filled with strategy and policy details. Are the current measures of success at counterinsurgency accurate? How much leverage does the United States still have over Iraqi factions? Will the final shape of Iraqi politics be more of a balance of power among sectarian and tribal forces, or will stronger, independent state institutions emerge from the turbulent waters of factional struggle? Not everyone has the patience or interest in these details. Unfortunately, you can't say much about the Iraq war without diving into the details.
To the extent that everyone, regardless of their political affiliation or opinion of the war, can move to a more pragmatic discussion of the Iraq war, which is the real theme of this new narrative, I say, Hallelujah!