The past few weeks have been momentous for the national conversation about Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki's explicitly stated insistence on a timetable for American withdrawal was transformative. For the first time, the Iraqi people, the American people, and the Iraqi government have all clearly expressed a desire for America to end its occupation of Iraq. For some in America, this has sounded like an endorsement of a well-defined withdrawal plan. For others, it has been validation of the surge strategy, and testament to the need to stay the course.
Nowhere has this tension been more acute than in the rapid-fire press releases between the two presidential candidates. As Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's foreign policy adviser, put it, "The fundamental truth remains that Senator McCain was right about the surge and Senator Obama was wrong. We would not be in the position to discuss a responsible withdrawal today if Senator Obama's views had prevailed." This raises an interesting empirical question, however. There's no doubt that the past year or two have seen a dramatic drop in Iraqi violence, and real gains in stability. In the American press, much of this stability has been chalked up to the "surge" of 30,000 or so extra troops, centered around Baghdad.