Cara Buckley and Michael R. Gordon have the Times' fronter on the drop in attacks, reporting that the weekly number of attacks has fallen to the lowest levels since just before the February 2006 bombing of the Samarra shrine. This is good news but to put it in context, those of us covering Iraq were even then engaged in informal debates over beers about who was calling the situation a civil war. There is little debate, however, that that bombing kicked the low-grade civil war into overdrive. Buckley and Gordon do point out -- kudos to them -- that the U.S. military is gathering the data, so it's necessarily skewed toward attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops. The data don't include Iraqi government numbers, so the figures aren't exhaustive. Last week saw only 575 attacks, compared to 700 the week of the Samarra attack and a stunning 1,600 attacks one week in June. Officials credit the weakening of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the standing down on Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the bringing in of thousands of Sunni volunteers. Even so, the level of violence is still high. As the figures on the drop in attacks were being released, Iraq was experiencing one of its deadliest days in weeks: at least 22 people were killed in bombings around the country, including nine civilians in Karada, and three children and three American soldiers in Baqoubah. So the real issue is not whether attacks are down, but whether the suppression of violence can be sustained as the surge winds down in the spring and in the absence of political national reconciliation. U.S. military officials are being cautious and not claiming the war has turned a corner -- which they've done often in the past.
The Post's Sudarsan Raghavan and David Finkel use a one-two lead on the story, noting that attacks had fallen while bombs killed at least 20 people, "highlighting the country's continuing security threats." The paper also runs the story on A14. C'mon, guys. If the spike in attacks in front-page news, isn't a drop in attacks equally front-page news, especially since it's kind of unusual now for Iraq to be relatively calm? In fact, the attacks get the bulk of the story, with a barrage of rocket and mortar attacks hitting U.S. bases in Baghdad especially highlighted. The story is, overall, considerably gloomier than the Times'. Iran's influence in bringing down attacks? U.S. embassy spokespeople downplay that possibility. Drop in attacks? Barely mentioned.
All of which begs the question: With things going somewhat less horribly in Iraq, no recent wiping out of entire cities from natural disasters, no one getting shot in the face in hunting accidents and no one recently indicted, has Bush become the Rodney Dangerfield of war presidents? For Peter Baker, who, in a front-page analysis for the Post, doesn't explicitly invoke the bug-eyed comedian, the answer, plainly, is yes.
None of this has particularly impressed the public at large, which remains skeptical that anything meaningful has changed and still gives Bush record-low approval ratings. The disconnect highlights his dilemma heading into the last year of his administration: Can anything short of a profound event repair an unpopular president's public standing so late in his tenure? Can tactical victories in Washington salvage a wounded presidency?Democratic strategists, always objective observers of the Bush White House, say that even if the war is going better, the American people have closed the book on the war. "They don't think it was worth entering, they don't think it was worth fighting," said William Galston, a former aide to Bill Clinton and a sometime adviser to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. "So tactical victories on the ground that might have made a difference two years ago aren't moving the needle right now." And so it goes. It's a typical "R-said, D-said" political story that enlightens no one because each team says nothing at all unexpected. Democrats say things aren't as bad, but it's still a failed presidency. Republicans say things are better and Bush is back on his game. Ho-hum. Quoting only elected members of Congress doesn't usually produce much more than this.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, David M. Herszenhorn of the Times reports that Democrats aren't backing down in their efforts to rein in Bush's war strategy -- and that they really mean it this time -- even though they once again failed on Friday to produce a shift in the strategy. Last week, they put forward a $50 billion war-funding bill with Gulliver-like strings attached that they knew would fail. And so it did. "What else are we supposed to do?" is the question that best sums up their approach, they say. "We are going to keep plugging away," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, amid signs that Democrats will continue to propose doomed plans as long as Bush remains in office and troops remain in Iraq.
IN OTHER COVERAGE
Christian Science Monitor
An editorial recaps the history of American Thanksgiving as a holiday often used by presidents to rally the country in times of war. Really? Why, yes, as it turns out. George Washington set a day of thanksgiving as a morale booster for the colonies during the Revolutionary War. Lincoln used thanksgiving proclamations to urge unity in a country much more divided than today.
Stephen Barr, columnist for the Post, profiles Joshua R. Fairley, an electrical engineer who's helping design better sensors for IED detection in Iraq and Afghanistan.