There is an old saying: "What if a tree fell in the forest and nobody came?" Or, as Samuel Johnson once wrote, words to a like effect.
The news out of Iraq, Wednesday, was that there was no news out of Iraq. At least no news that the New York Times wanted to particularly feature, doing everything it could to be certain that readers would not be around to hear that tree fall.
We have previously discussed the matter of the Times editorializing by placement. As another example, this was the squib in the teaser box on the front page of Thursday's paper:
Rebel Force Out of Baghdad: American Troops have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia from every neighborhood of Baghdad, the commander of United States forces in Baghdad says.
Not the front page. Not the second nor third nor fourth page. Page 19. Following a four-page advertisement by the Siemens Corporation.
And the non-news was unambiguous as the opening paragraph by Damien Cave attests:
"American forces have routed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the Iraqi militant network, from every neighborhood in Baghdad a top American General said today, allowing American troops involved in the 'surge' to depart as planned."
Routed. Every. Planned.
Not "making headway against." Routed.
Not "some neighborhoods." Every.
Not "leave in disgrace." Depart as planned.
Am I misreading the reporting here? If this is true, this isn't just pretty good news, this is extraordinary news. This is GREAT news.
Here's what it is not: It is not Page A19 news.
The commander, Major General John Fils told reporters that "murder victims are down 80% from the peak and attacks involving improvised bombs are down 70%." Among other things he gave credit to "the Iraqis' rejection of 'the rule of the gun.'"
To be fair, MG Fils said that "the biggest threat to Baghdad security is now Shiite militias" and not Al Qaeda, but he also said that 2008 would be "a year of reconstruction, a year of infrastructure repair, a year of - if there's going to be a surge - a year of a surge in the economy."
The question, then, becomes: Will Iraq be as important an election issue next November as the news media believes it is this November?
Who is helped and who is hurt if Iraq is still a major issue; and what is the calculus if it has faded to the Page A19 of Americans' consciousness?
At the Presidential level on the Democratic side, a fading Iraq hurts both Obama and Edwards. It would be difficult to sell the "Troops Out Now!" line if an orderly withdrawal - signifying success - is underway.
It helps Clinton because her vote to authorize military action in the first place is not nearly so onerous to Democratic primary voters.
On the Republican side it probably helps everyone but Ron Paul. Success in Iraq helps George W. If his approval numbers begin to climb into the mid- to high-forties then whoever the GOP candidate is runs with more confidence.
At the Congressional level, the Harry Reid (D-Nevada) wing of the Democratic Party looks even more spineless than it does today if the President's "surge" strategy continues to produce positive results.
If that is the case incumbents like Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) look decidedly stronger in their re-election bids, meaning massive Democratic increases in the US House and Senate are far less likely.
First, though, the White House has to help sell the story of success in Iraq. The White House alone has the capacity to move the Success in Iraq story from page A19 to page A1.