The weirdest war in world history -- well, all right, U.S. history -- will begin winding down in 2006: too fast for some, not fast enough for others.
The United States, with no thought whatever of abandoning the Iraqis to their own devices, understands the time has come to begin easing out the door and bringing the troops home.
We won't declare victory and leave -- Sen. George Aiken's immortal prescription for breaking off our Vietnamese engagement. We will declare, with considerable justification, that the Iraqis themselves are becoming equipped for the heavy lifting still ahead. Then we'll start drawing down our ground forces in Iraq -- slowly, gradually, until maybe just a few remain.
At which point, we might expect the commentators and analysts and political generals to take over. Except that for most of the distance along the bomb-pitted road we have walked in Iraq, the voices of the commentators and analysts and political generals have sounded louder than anyone else's. I mean that -- louder even than the voices of the Commander-in-Chief and his planners and generals, who only lately have acknowledged failure to tell their story adequately.
This has been a media war. That is what has made it so weird and so unsettling. Nothing seems to happen in Iraq without jostling between those waging the war and those critiquing it -- to the enormous confusion of viewers and readers.
Modern media theory insists on the media's right -- nay, duty -- to hold the government accountable for its actions. Which actions, and in what context, isn't always clear. Whereas formerly we turned over the waging of war to the U.S. government, we now take for granted a kind of supervisory role in all this for the commentators and analysts and political generals -- a role that television and, especially, the Internet have magnified.
Via the Internet, we know everything that happens as soon as it happens. Equally, we have viewpoints on what happens: viewpoints that swarm and fragment and collide. Viewpoints that require (as viewpoints will) endless and exhausting repetition.
How much the average American voter really understands about Iraq isn't the least bit clear. Oh, but viewpoints -- we got 'em! Bush lied! No, he led! There was no need for the war. There was every need for it. The Sunnis hate us. We're defusing Sunni anger. We can do business with the Shiites. The Shiites are the Iranians' boys. We're spilling blood for nothing. We're spilling blood for peace.