Hope Not Yet Abandoned
That announcement came as a blow to the Bush administration, which took turns taking credit for the change (a 2005 NIE had declared the opposite) and muttering darkly that it probably isn't true. For the rest of us, it has to be greeted as good news: Either the spooks are willing to speak truth to a lame-duck president or the Iranians got smart enough to make it plain even to U.S. spies that they don't care to play nuclear chicken with the U.S.
With luck – as well as some yanking on Israel's chain – it's less likely the U.S. will find an excuse to attack Iran in the coming year. It could also mean the presidential campaign will become slightly less bellicose on the GOP side, while isolating Dem Hillary Clinton for her Bush-like sabre-rattling at the Iranians. It might even mean primary voters will push the candidates and the Congress to get serious about withdrawal from Iraq.
Meanwhile, on the ground, violence has undeniably diminished in Iraq, although it's unclear whether the U.S. "surge" or tactical Iraqi factional truces are most responsible. As The Washington Post's Thomas Ricks reported recently, the improvement is painfully relative. On Nov. 20, he alluded to Dante's Inferno while telling online readers, "I just got back from Baghdad last week, and it was clear that violence has decreased. But it hasn't gone away. It is only back down to the 2005 level – which to my mind is kind of like moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth."
As an invader and occupier, the U.S. remains responsible for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, a total to which hundreds continue to be added every month we remain. There are some 4 million external and internal refugees, also our responsibility. In the words of Seymour Hersh, "There are two very clear options. Option A: Get everybody out by midnight tonight. Option B: Get everybody out by midnight tomorrow. The fuel that keeps the war going is us."