(updated below - Update II)
As he always does, Howard Kurtz excitedly recites the emerging Beltway wisdom several weeks after it takes root: the Democrats might be in big trouble now that it looks like We're Winning in Iraq:
With two-thirds of the country against the war, that was a big plus for the Dems.
But what about the recent decline in U.S. military casualties and Iraqi civilian deaths? . . . The idea that the situation in Iraq is improving is getting some scattered notice (a lead story on "World News," a front-page Washington Post piece) but has yet to really take hold.
The war will be a big issue no matter what, given the circumstances under which the president took the country to war, the international fallout and the thousands of dead and wounded American soldiers. But could the impact be muddled if the trend toward reduced violence continues?
He quotes The New Republic's Michael Crowley expressing the Everything-Is-Good-For-Republicans line, which now even applies to the greatest strategic disaster in our country's history:
Some previously hard-to-imagine glimmers of hope are now emerging. Of course there are a thousand caveats here . . . But this weekend an experienced Iraq correspondent -- someone who has been extremely bleak about the war in the past -- told me he thinks it's really possible that the country is turning a corner.
Which raises all sorts of secondary but fascinating political questions: What do the Democrats do if -- yes: if, if, if -- the surge appears to have succeeded? . . . Indeed, if Iraq somehow stabilizes and even incrementally improves, doesn't that affect the presidential campaign in important and unpredictable ways? . . . [T]he notion that Bush's patience really did save Iraq from unmitigated humanitarian and strategic catastrophe might be a powerful one. . . .
With a touch of evidentiary wind at his back, then, it may be far easier for, say, a Rudy Giuliani to argue 'See? Things are getting better! I told you so'! than for a Hillary Clinton to dourly say, 'Maybe, but it still wasn't worth it.' . . .
"I wonder whether the Democrats have been preparing for that possibility -- and what their contingency plans are if the Iraq debate tacks substantially back the GOP's way."
Whenever one thinks that our discourse regarding the Iraq War just can't get any more inane, it always manages to find a way. If the violence in Iraq continues to decrease -- and even if one accepts the most dubious of premises in order to see it all in the best possible light (the decrease will endure, it's because of the Magical Surge, the de facto ethnic cleansing can reverse itself, etc.) -- that rather obviously doesn't mean that the war has achieved anything positive, either in that country or for our own. It just means that we have begun to contain some of the monstrous harm which our invasion unleashed there.
Acting as though a decrease in violence is now a positive reflection on the invasion itself is irrational in the extreme. It's basically akin to someone sitting on their couch and chewing up food and spitting it all over the floor and the walls and the furniture month after month until it piles up and congeals and grows into mold, turning the room into a repulsive, health-threatening mess. Guests come by and run away in horror at how repugnant it all is.
Then, one day, the person decides to pick up some of the congealed food from the floor and scrapes a little bit off the walls, making it a bit less filthy. Then he starts calling his friends, announcing: "You must come over. I've completely redecorated my home and it looks beautiful now. You have to see what I've done to it."
That is pretty much an exact analogy to what is now emerging as Beltway wisdom regarding Iraq. We took a country that was relatively stable and a sworn enemy of, and an important check on, Iran. We turned it into a cesspool of violence, instability, displacement, sectarian strife, Iranian influence, and rule by militia.
The best we can hope for is to reverse some of the damage that we did so that a Shiite regime far more loyal to Iran than to the U.S. can rule with some semblance of order. And to "achieve" that, we squandered hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (at least), and almost every ounce of credibility and influence we built up over the last six decades. That's the best case scenario. But still -- we are hearing now -- the people responsible for that grotesque debacle and who cheered it on are going to be in a "powerful" position, and the people who thought doing that was all a bad idea will be in big, big trouble.
Beltway denizens have long been convinced that if we just stay long enough, they will be vindicated for what they did. They are inherently Good and intrinsically wise and while it's possible that they didn't anticipate everything and that all the great things might take a little longer to arrive than they thought, it's simply not possible that they did something ghastly and wrong. They will wait as long as they have to for vindication, but vindication will be theirs.
I once again point to the front-page article in The Washington Post by Jim VandeHei and Shalaigh Murray all the way back in December, 2005 headlined: Democrats Fear Backlash at Polls for Antiwar Remarks. It warned that antiwar comments from Dean and Pelosi "could harm efforts to win control of Congress next year" and "could reinforce popular perceptions that the party is weak on military matters" -- exactly what Kurtz, Crowley and their friends, two years later, are announcing now and will keep announcing.
In Beltway World, their War is Good and war opponents are bad and wrong and the only question is when that will all be clear to everyone. Then, finally, the Beltway geniuses who cheered on the war will finally return to the lofty heights that are rightfully theirs and war opponents will once again be exposed for the unserious losers that they are and relegated back to their natural place on the fringes.
That what David Broder's prescient prediction was all about when, last January, he announced that "at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback." They've just been waiting for the script to be given to them that lets them believe that they were right all along about the war they enabled. Meanwhile, in the real world, this is what has been happening since the glorious Surge began, as the country has been relentlessly regaled by Gen. David H. Petraeus and his press admirers with all the Great Progress being made in Iraq:
Inevitably, the Beltway will find a way to cling to its standard storyline, and that's what this is all is. "Hey look -- some violence [that our invasion caused] is decreasing in Iraq! It just took the Right General and the Right Strategy for it all to happen. It took a little longer than we thought, because Bush 'mismanaged' our War, but now it's all happening like we thought.
"So it looks as though we really are the Wise, Serious Guardians of Political Wisdom -- just as we knew all along we were -- and those dirty leftists hippies once again tried to stand in the way of a glorious, necessary, just War to liberate the oppressed peoples from the vicious, suffocating dictators who make American unsafe. And now those anti-war Leftists are going to pay a big price as the Real Americans realize just how right we were about all of this. Soon we'll be able to cheer on the next war in peace."
UPDATE: There are several helpful suggestions in comments for enhancing the Victory is Ours storyline:
They are going to claim victory in Iraq? Is someone going to land on an air-craft carrier to announce it?
After the Surge, Flowers
Soon, the people will come out from their hiding places and greet our troops with flowers and sweets. THEN, we will have achieved victory.
Love the Campaign Slogan
"While every measurable indicator has gone to hell, things are actually not the absolute worst they've ever been! Vote GOP '08!"
Is there any doubt that all of that would work, that all of the people who cheered when those things were rolled out the first time would be cheering just as loudly this time around? They already are.
UPDATE II: More terrible news for the Democrats, and excellent news for the Surging, pro-war Republicans (h/t Zack):
Opposition to the war in Iraq has reached an all-time high, according to the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Thursday morning.
Support for the war in Iraq has dropped to 31 percent and the 68 percent who oppose the war is a new record.
Despite the drop in violence in Iraq, only one quarter of Americans believes the U.S. is winning the war. There has been virtually no change in the past month in the number of Americans who believe that things are going badly for the U.S. in the war in Iraq.
The public also opposes U.S. military action against Iran. Sixty-three percent oppose air strikes on Iran, while 73 percent oppose using ground troops as well as air strikes in that country.
Overall, 56 percent, of Americans are dissatisfied with progress in the war on terrorism.
Any day now -- really, any minute -- Americans are going to awaken and learn to love this war and show the proper gratitude for our Beltway rulers for bringing it to us, and punish those who said bad things about it, just like VandeHei and Murray (2 years ago) and David Broder (10 months ago) and Howard Kurtz (yesterday) have been saying they will.