It's disappointing to note the almost complete absence of any serious discussion of Iraq among the leading Democratic candidates. They all appear, more or less, to want the U.S. out, and they disagree only slightly on how fast that should happen. But they obviously don't want to talk about Iraq in any detail. One reason for this, I fear, is that, along with too many others, they think the "surge" has actually accomplished something. Or else they know it hasn't and don't want to appear to contradict the media-promoted conventional wisdom.
While the level of street violence has in fact decreased in recent months, the major announced objective of the surge, the creation of political space for the Iraqi government to get its act together and actually do some governing, has clearly not been achieved. The pressing issues--distribution of oil revenue, writing a useful constitution, and figuring out how the major ethnic groups can live together in one country--remain disastrously unresolved. For a satisfyingly acute expression of how far from successful the surge has been see this essay at Truthout by Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida. For an equally trenchant assessment of what all this silence really means, see this essay in today's New York Times Magazine by Noah Feldman.
We should not forget that the main reason the day-to-day violence in Baghdad has diminished is that entire neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed. The Sunnis and Shi'ia simply don't live near each other any more. Millions of Iraqis are either dead or displaced. The surge can never erase their suffering. It can only, and only momentarily, distract Americans from contemplating what our government has done in our name.
The American misadventure in Iraq is just as much a failure as it has ever been. Its consequences will haunt whoever is elected President in November. Until our politicians grapple meaningfully with Iraq, there's little hope that the endgame will be any less catastrophic than what we've seen the last five years.