- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009

We don’t hear all that much about Iraq these days, do we? The war at one point almost tore apart this country. Public anger sent President George W. Bush’s approval ratings plummeting. The outrage over our losses helped elect vocal anti-Iraq-war candidate Barack Obama.

But Iraq is hardly in the news anymore. That seems odd, given there are still 120,000 American troops stationed there.

Why the silence?

In short, Americans are not dying in Iraq as they were from 2006 to 2008. Twice as many Americans have died in Afghanistan this year as in Iraq. As of this writing, in December, there have been four coalition fatalities. That’s about one-tenth of the number of people murdered per month in Chicago in 2008.

Perceptions of the war in Iraq have also changed in unforeseen ways.

“No blood for oil,” for example, was once a common anti-war cry. But Iraq’s auctioning of its oil leases has gone mostly to Europeans, Russians and Chinese - not Americans.

The United States, it turned out, did not go to Iraq to steal its natural resources. Apparently, we instead ensured a fair auction by a constitutional government that preferred non-American companies to pump its oil. In the end, we were more idealistic - or naive - than conspiratorial.

Then there is Iran, which, many argued, was supposed to have been empowered after we removed its nemesis Saddam Hussein. And, indeed, it sure looked that way when Iranian agents were stirring up violence in Iraq.

Yet this year, a million Iranians went out in the streets to demand free and fair elections of the sort they hear constantly about across their border. In other words, perhaps the democratic experiment in Iraq - where Shiite Muslims enjoy freedom - will prove destabilizing in the long term to the Iranian theocracy.

Here at home, the portrayal of the two wars we’re engaged in is just as topsy-turvy. When fewer than 100 Americans were dying each year in Afghanistan and the Taliban were in hiding, the Afghan conflict was proclaimed a necessary, good war - in contrast to the optional, costly and apparently failed effort in Iraq.

But in 2009, Mr. Bush’s bad war quieted down. And the good war in Afghanistan, now overseen by Mr. Obama, heated up.

In turn, the politics flipped as well.

Once upon a time, presidential candidate Mr. Obama argued that combat troops should leave Iraq by March 2008 and more soldiers sent to Afghanistan. That seemed popular at the time, since most then thought Iraq was hopeless.

But under the present reversed conditions, Mr. Obama apparently has followed the Bush-Petraeus plan of incremental withdrawal from Iraq. And, with Afghanistan, he waited months before granting the requests of his generals for more troops - while insisting on a deadline to start bringing them back home.

As a result, the left-wing loyalists who helped elect Mr. Obama on his anti-war credentials are now furious at the Nobel Peace Laureate for sending any additional troops to Afghanistan. And his biggest supporters, ironically, are his usual right-wing opponents, who now applaud him for listening to his generals.

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