Anyone who has followed the Iraq war long enough, and closely enough, to know what a "Friedman Unit" is, knows the drill by now: there is no timetable, there are no benchmarks, there is no measurement of progress, just the vague idea that we are about to turn some corner, after which everything will be perfect ever after.
Five years on, we're still turning the same corner - at least according to MSNBC's Baghdad bureau chief Richard Engel, who was asked by Chris Matthews tonight as to whether we were nearing "the light at the end of the tunnel." Engel went on to suggest that what's waiting around the corner for Iraq, is renewed violence:
ENGEL: It feels right now similar to where we were five years ago. This is a turning point or could be a turning point. Five years ago, U.S. troops were on their way - quite literally at this time - and we knew something was about to change. Right now, we have this window of opportunity, violence compared to a year ago is down 60, 70%, depending where you are in Iraq right now. We have not seen - I don't see any real signs of political reconciliation. There have been some laws passed, but when I talk to Iraqi politicians, Iraqis on the street, this new - I guess you could call it militia force the U.S. military has created, the Sons of Iraq program, the former Sunni insurgents fighting alongside Americans - they don't talk about reconciliation, they talk about maintaining some sort of truce so they can settle scores later. There is a lull in the violence, an opportunity, but the fundamental problems, I think are still very much rooted here.
MATTHEWS: Are we the cork in the bottle?
ENGEL: Right now, we are keeping the two sides apart. The only hope is that the people here get used to this relative calm enough that they will want to keep it going. Right now, Muqtada al Sadr would love to come back to the fight. He's staying out because if he did come back, his own movement would blame him for having destroyed the cease-fire that is going on right now, people's lives are getting back to normal. If that momentum can maintain, perhaps we won't have to be the cork in the bottle. But we are certainly right now keeping the two sides apart.
Maybe five years into the Iraq War, there are no corners. Maybe we're walking in circles.