Having listened to recent statements made by President George W. Bush and his presumptive heir, John McCain, I am impressed that these two carriers of the neocon torch expect the opponents of their disastrous military misadventure in Mesopotamia, including presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, to crawl on all fours before the War Party’s leaders, hail the power of their strategic foresight, and beg for their forgiveness.  The Surge—S-U-R-G-E—in Iraq.  Did we mention the Surge?  Yes, Dick, Paul, Bill, and “Scooter,” the success of the Surge just forces every one of us to reread all the back issues of The Weekly Standard, to watch reruns of FOX News programs, and to admit that, unlike us appeasers and defeatists, you guys were right from the beginning!

And by the way, thanks for not listening to Silly Us, and that again includes Obama.  Can you imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t ousted an Iraqi leader who had no ties to Al Qaeda or any responsibility for the September 11 attacks?  Or the mess that we would have on our hands if we hadn’t invaded a country that had no weapons of mass destruction and that didn’t pose a direct threat to our national security?  Or if President Bush had paid attention to the warnings: that perhaps America won’t be able to impose democracy at the point of gun on a non-Western political culture; that we shouldn’t open the Iraqi Pandora’s box of warring ethnic, religious, and tribal groups and remove the most effective military counterbalance to the radical Shiites leaders in Tehran; and that the costs of military occupation of Mesopotamia would be very high in terms of lives and treasure and would harm our strategic position in the Middle East and elsewhere?

Never mind.  That’s just the sort of ancient history that members of the reality-based community are obsessed with.  The Surge has proved that victory is just around the corner, it’s the Turning Point we’ve been expecting, and it’s a pity that those preoccupied with timetables or timelines for withdrawal just don’t get it.  Obama was “completely wrong” in opposing the Bush administration’s Surge in January 2007, McCain argued recently.  “The fact is, if we had done what Sen. Obama wanted to do, we would have lost,” he stated during one of his town-hall meetings.  “And we would have faced a wider war.  And we would have had greater problems in Afghanistan and the entire region.”

Is that so?  Even after the Surge, America continues to face a “wider war” in the broader Middle East and is confronting “greater problems in Afghanistan and the entire region.”  One reason is that, with more U.S. troops deployed as part of the Surge in Iraq, an overstretched U.S. military hasn’t been able to put more troops in Afghanistan, where we have yet to win the victory we had set out for ourselves: destroying the entire infrastructure and killing the leaders of Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies—all those who were actually responsible for the horrific events of September 11.

The Surge, which amounted to a decision to escalate the war in Iraq—just after the outcome of a congressional election had made it clear that American voters were opposed to that war—could only be considered a “success” if one starts to measure things based on extremely low expectations, in the same way that we would describe as “impressive” the 100-percent rise in GDP per capita in a poor sub-Saharan country from, say, one dollar to two, or the reduction in deaths from gang violence in one inner city from 500 to 250 in one month.  Or imagine your kid returning from school with his report card.  “Mom, Dad—I want to thank you for hiring David — to tutor me this year.  If you recall, last year I had ten F’s and one D.  This year I only have seven F’s and four D’s.”  Now that’s some “progress”!

Yes, the level of violence has fallen from the worst months of the occupation but still remains as high as that of 2005.  More Iraqi civilians were killed in the first four months of this year than in the same months in 2005.  This kind of progress was achieved thanks to the increase in the number of U.S. forces and the ad hoc deals, including payments of thousands of U.S. dollars, with members of Sunni militias, a.k.a. terrorists, many of whom had murdered American soldiers and Shiite civilians in the past and have now turned against another terrorist group, Al Qaeda, in Iraq.  Moreover, the decrease in violence is in part a reflection of the “success” of the process of ethnic cleansing, which has forced Sunnis out of Shiite neighborhoods and vice versa.  There just aren’t as many enemies around the block to behead this afternoon.  At the same time, most of the more than five million Iraqis who have fled Iraq—a great number of them middle-class professionals and Christians—have no intention of returning home any time soon.

The Bush administration’s boasting recalls a “report” that appeared in “America’s Finest News Source” on June 23, 2004.  Under the headline “Coalition: Vast Majority Of Iraqis Still Alive,” The Onion “quoted” CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer publicly touting the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom:

“As the Coalition’s rule draws to a close, the numbers show that we have an awful lot to be proud of,” Bremer said Tuesday.  “As anyone who’s taken a minute and actually looked at the figures can tell you, the vast majority of Iraqis are still alive—as many as 99 percent.  While 10,000 or so Iraqi civilians have been killed, pretty much everyone is not dead.”

The Bush administration and its neoconservative cheerleaders raised the high standards with which we were expected to measure the success of the Iraq war (in addition to uncovering Saddam’s ties to Osama and finding those WMDs): a democratic, politically stable, and economically prosperous Iraq, serving as a model for the entire Middle East and making peace with Israel, and not a politically unstable and economically poverty-stricken Iraq, in the midst of a low-level civil war, ruled by a coalition of Shiite and Kurdish militias, and an ally of Iran.  And now the Bushies expect all of us to applaud the fact that Iraq may be less politically unstable than she was late last year?

The political bottom line is obvious to the majority of Americans who, according to opinion polls, think the Iraq war was a mistake and want the administration to draft a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.  That explains why American voters haven’t been so impressed by McCain’s earlier support for the Surge or why they are not punishing Obama for expressing skepticism about the Surge’s expected value.  If anything, President Bush and his aides seem to be embracing elements of Obama’s plan for Iraq, agreeing to set a general “time horizon” for the withdrawal of combat troops as part of a long-term security accord negotiated with Baghdad.  This is the same President Bush who has long derided timetables for troop withdrawals as dangerous and has adamantly fought efforts by congressional Democrats and other “defeatists” to impose what he described as “artificial” timelines for withdrawal, which would supposedly play into the hands of the terrorists and deprive America of “victory” in Mesopotamia.

The reports about the Bush administration’s embrace of a “time horizon” came out during the same week in which the White House announced its decision to have Undersecretary of State William Burns, the third-ranking person in the State Department, sit down in Geneva in the same room with Iranian nuclear envoy Saeed Jalili and high-ranking diplomats from five other countries to try to negotiate a deal to suspend Tehran’s uranium-enrichment plan.

Yes, that’s the same President Bush who, during a recent address to the Israeli Knesset, compared those who would talk with Iran to those who talked to Adolf Hitler in Munich, taunting them as followers of “the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”  Indeed, both Bush and McCain have taken swipes at Obama for proposing direct negotiations—the kind that the Americans are conducting now in Munich (oops: Geneva) with that infamous member of the Axis of Evil.

Indeed, pundits in Washington were intrigued by the fact that the Bushies were taking the diplomatic course of talking to Iran and discussing dates for troop withdrawal from Iraq on the same week that Obama was visiting Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.  That the Bush administration was embracing elements of the more realistic agenda already promoted by Obama helped place the Democratic presidential hopeful in the mainstream of foreign-policy thinking and ran contrary to the efforts by McCain and the Republicans to cast him as a left-wing peacenik with little experience or understanding of foreign policy.  That the timetable proposed by Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki looked more like the one proposed by Obama than by Bush only helped to highlight Obama’s mastery of Middle Eastern diplomacy.  Moreover, some pundits suggested that we were witnessing a “convergence” of the views of the two leading presidential candidates and their supporters over Iraq and Iran.

The next president will not take office for more than four months, so it might be too early for the realists in Washington to celebrate a victory for their approach to foreign policy. In fact, it’s quite possible that President Bush and his aides have decided that they simply don’t have enough political support to pursue either a grand diplomatic bargain with Tehran or a military confrontation with the Iranians.  They may have concluded that a short-term deal with Iran is the most cost-effective way of managing the current crisis and that it is in their best interests to leave the issue to the next president.

Or perhaps the White House’s symbolic concessions to the Iranians are nothing more than a diplomatic smoke screen that allows the Bush administration to argue, before it moves toward using military force against Iran, that it had gone out of its way to placate the Iranians and to give them a chance to reach a peaceful agreement—and that Tehran is therefore responsible for any resulting war in the Persian Gulf.

Similarly, the notion of a “time horizon” for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq is very different from an actual, concrete timetable for the pullout of American forces.  It is probably part of an effort to help Prime Minister Maliki burnish his nationalist credentials before the coming provincial elections in Iraq and to open a dialogue with Obama.  Ironically, it is not unlikely that the one who will benefit the most from the Surge may be Obama, its earlier opponent, and not McCain, its most enthusiastic cheerleader.