Iraq and the Ticking Clock

Yesterday, the NY Times had a story about the signs of progress in Anbar:

AMADI, Iraq – Anbar Province, long the lawless heartland of the tenacious Sunni Arab resistance, is undergoing a surprising transformation. Violence is ebbing in many areas, shops and schools are reopening, police forces are growing and the insurgency appears to be in retreat.

“Many people are challenging the insurgents,” said the governor of Anbar, Maamoon S. Rahid, though he quickly added, “We know we haven’t eliminated the threat 100 percent.”

Many Sunni tribal leaders, once openly hostile to the American presence, have formed a united front with American and Iraqi government forces against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. With the tribal leaders’ encouragement, thousands of local residents have joined the police force. About 10,000 police officers are now in Anbar, up from several thousand a year ago. During the same period, the police force here in Ramadi, the provincial capital, has grown from fewer than 200 to about 4,500, American military officials say.

The article cautions that the alliances that have led to the progress are a “fragile marriage of convienience,” with groups who may not be loyal to America or the Iraqi government, but nonetheless the piece paints a generally positive portrait of progress in Anbar.

But I found this bit troubling:

American commanders see the progress in Anbar as a bellwether for the rest of country. “One of the things I worry about in Baghdad is we won’t have the time to do the same kind of thing,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of day-to-day war operations in Iraq, said in an interview here.

I explored the consequences of withdrawal in a recent column, and it’s gut-wrenching that we now finally have a strategy and a great team in place that seems to be producing at least limited progress, and yet our commanders have to be worried about a ticking clock in Washington.

So, the question is, how long is that timeline? I think that Democrats will eventually flinch and pass an emergency Iraq funding bill of some sort, because they would be afraid of literally cutting off money from troops on the ground. I would say that in September, after Congress comes back from summer recess, the commanders will have to show decent progress with the surge to buy more time. If Iraq is still a mess come this fall, it’s hard to see how Bush will be able to hold out much beyond that. With Republican members of Congress nervous about another thumpin’ in the 2008 elections, Bush’s support within his own party would erode. Yet another reason why Bush should have made these strategic adjustments at least in early 2005, from a position of strength coming off of his reelection, rather than when his approval ratings are stuck in the 30s and an overwhelming majority the public wants out.