No doubt these numbers are imperfect and hardly speak to a single cause. In Indonesia, our generous tsunami relief helped a great deal. In Lebanon, terrorism isn't just something that happens to Israelis and Americans - it's something that could snuff out the rebirth of democracy there (it's also a reminder of the civil war few wish to return to). And across the Arab world, opinions have been shifted by images of Iraqi "insurgents" slaughtering innocent men, women and children while Americans are trying to build schools and hospitals.
But here in the United States opinions remain fixed. Opponents of the war are convinced that every day we are in Iraq we are making things worse for America and the world. One could certainly argue that we're making things worse for America, in that the war has not gone as well as many of its supporters had hoped or expected. But even if you could prove that the war was a mistake in every way, to say that it never should have happened is not a good argument for abandoning the project. If a man is stabbed in the chest, you don't cure him by simply yanking the knife out. In other words, the old talking points on both sides do not matter anymore.
There is an important lesson for President Bush in all this. The message of his recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars was that we need to "stay the course." That has been his talking point for a very long time. And, in fairness, if your policy is to stay the course, then saying "stay the course" has a certain irrefutable logic to it. But on any long journey, even if the course remains the same the terrain may change.
Much has changed in Iraq. The Iraqi army is progressing, even as bombers target recruiting stations. The marshlands have been restored. There's an enormous car-buying boom in Iraq, which is surely a sign of confidence. Morale - to the consternation of our domestic media - is still very high among American regular troops (less so among National Guardsmen). And, let's not forget, the messy process of constitution-writing is unfolding before our very eyes.
For reasons so imponderable that a cottage industry of West Wing Kremlinologists has sprung up, President Bush seems incapable or unwilling to make his case in light of the new realities. One may stay the course, and cross mountains and valleys. Let's hear less about the destination and more about crossing the mountains and valleys.
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