I Love Divided Government! I really do!
This is a post about Iraq. I almost never post about Iraq. That's because I don't have a clear picture about what's going on over there and there are others who do a much better job hypothesizing about what's going on than I can.
But that doesn't mean I don't read about Iraq. It doesn't mean that I don't care. In fact, I read a lot and care a lot. Now that I've been reading about it for 4+ years, I think I actually have a better feel for it. On an absolute scale, I still don't have any idea where we stand. But I feel that I'm starting to get a feel for the direction things are moving in.
I read a wide range of sources, from very, very negative to totally glowing. The first thing I do is look for changes in the tenor of those sources. Some sources never change. For example, Daily Kos has never, ever, once written anything but ultra-negative reports and essays about Iraq. Therefore, when looking for changes in tenor, I simply ignore such sources since there's never a change. However, much of the media, while negative on average, does change the level of negativity over time. Much of the alternative media (the blogosphere, etc.), while usually more positive, also changes tone. The changes are very slow, and the changes are often swamped by noise and other variables (e.g. elections), but it is sometimes possible to detect a change.
The other thing I do to qualify sources is to see how well their predictions have held up. Some sources are much better than others. I can do nothing but rave about the predictive capability of Wretchard at the Belmont Club. Is he perfect? No, far from it. However, whereas most sources' predictions are nearly always wrong, his are occasionally close to the mark. That description may not sound impressive, but relative to everybody else, it really is.
So I have a measure of change and a measure of confidence. I've been informally forming these intuitive measures for more than four years.
The reason I'm posting about Iraq now is that the change meter is showing significant change. The mainstream media, while incredibly negative over the last few months, has printed some almost positive articles lately (and driving the anti-work crowd nearly berserk). Embedded hawkish journalists like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio, while usually more upbeat than most, are even more upbeat as of late. Wretchard has gone from gloomy to, well, somewhat less gloomy.
This doesn't mean much. Going from gloomy to somewhat less gloomy is hardly cause for celebration. But still, the change is unmistakable.
I have a hypothesis for a factor that may have helped the change to occur.
One of the reasons for pessimism was (and still is) that the Iraqis are just not getting their act together. They are just not making progress. They've been a bit too laid back in my opinion, reminding me of some of the surfers at the beach here. In fact I've had visions of ol' al-Maliki taking to his buddies: "Yo, dude, don't worry about the country, man, the Americans will make sure we don't screw it up to bad."
The threat of hanging serves to focus the mind. I was thinking that a good way to get the Iraqis to focus would be to tell them that we're leaving. Tell them that we're leaving soon. Very soon. And not only that, we're gonna place 20 million machine guns in the center of the country with 2 billion rounds of ammo and say, "hey, we're outta here, have at it, may the best faction win, and good luck!" I think that would get their attention. It would get mine!
Of course, I would never do that. Well, I would never do that, but our rather unscrupulous Congress might (minus the machine guns and ammo, I suppose). Not only might they do that, but it rather looked like they were gonna do that. And sure enough, the Iraqis (especially the Sunnis) seem to be noticing. And getting off their butts. At least a little bit.
I think that's why we're seeing a change in Iraq lately.
Congress ultimately backed down, but they put the Iraqis on notice first. That fact is that if there is no progress in Iraq over the coming months, we may actually leave and leave them to their own devices (and civil war, and mayhem, and genocide, and famine, and mass refugee migration, etc.).
My feeling is that the American people, in their infinite Wisdom of Crowds, correctly put the Democrats into office all so this showdown would happen and enable progress in Iraq. We're good, we are!