January 15, 2008

Over the last couple of months, much of the political discussion regarding the U.S. policy in Iraq has been centered around the perception of progress. Civilian casualties are down. Military casualties are down. Political progress doesn’t seem quite as elusive. Iraq 2008 appears more like Iraq 2005 than Iraq 2006. No matter what the specifics of the question, conservative Republicans answer the same way: Bush’s policy is “working.”

On the flip side, of course, is reality. Iraq is still unstable and unsafe. Political progress is practically non-existent. And for all the GOP talk about “victory” and “success,” we continue to get news like this.

The Iraqi defense minister said Monday that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012, nor be able on its own to defend Iraq’s borders from external threat until at least 2018.

Those comments from the minister, Abdul Qadir, were among the most specific public projections of a timeline for the American commitment in Iraq by officials in either Washington or Baghdad. And they suggested a longer commitment than either government had previously indicated.

Pentagon officials expressed no surprise at Mr. Qadir’s projections, which were even less optimistic than those he made last year.

There are quite a few key parts of Qadir’s remarks, but the fact that he’s “less optimistic” may be the most striking. After all, the Kristol/McCain/Lieberman wing of the political spectrum is telling us, incessantly, about how encouraged we should all be, and chastising anyone who dares to question what they see as incontrovertible progress.

And yet, here we have the Iraqi defense minister conceding that Iraq won’t even be able to control its own streets for another four years (eight Friedmans), or protect itself from foreign rivals for another 10 years (20 Friedmans). In fact, he went on to suggest it might not be until 2020 that the country can fully protect the integrity of Iraq’s borders.

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