There’s a lot of carping that the admin is now lowering expectations, but I think it's really the expectations of critics that have been raised. Imagine if you had told someone in Jan 2003 the following:
"By August 2005, not only will the regime have been removed from power and its leaders be on trial, but Iraq will have held successful elections and be on the verge of approving a new constitution. Fewer than 2,000 American soldiers will have been killed by hostile fire, and resistance will be light, scattered and very unpopular among Iraqis."
You'd have been called delusionally optimistic. Now that situation is cause for despair. Of course, it doesn’t help we have certain Americans producing the same kind of anti-American propaganda the Tojo regime and the Nazis used to produce to demoralize Americans. And of course the institutions that produced the pro-American World War II propaganda (you know, the cute patriotic little toons of Mickey Mouse beating up Hitler, etc) were a terrible danger to our freedom (those warmongering fascist bastard cartoonists) and are now very defunct, because we’re much too enlightened for that kind of jingoism these days.
The good news for Iraqis is that Bush will be in office for 3 more years, and he’s not going to give an inch even if his approval rating drops to single digits. By then the Iraqis should have the situation pretty well under control, or at least as under control as it’s ever going to get.
The Iraqis have some strategic advantages we don’t, beyond rapport with the locals and speaking the language, such as the fact they’re not nearly as squeamish about dealing with insurgents as we are. For instance, our guys have to charge or release people within 3 days. The Iraqis are under no such obligation – and the insurgents know it, as they’re reportedly begging to be taken by American forces when they have the choice between us and Iraqis (I guess they haven’t heard Ted Kennedy’s speech about Saddam’s torture chambers re-opening under U.S. management). And with so many Iraqis being killed by insurgents, it’s hard to fault them for being less than completely gentle captors to their tormentors; this is one situation where the perfect is the enemy of the good. (Anyone here watch NYPD Blue? Sipowitz would know what I mean).
At this point, it’s unlikely we can “lose” in the sense of the elected gov’t being overthrown by Baathists or Zarqawi’s loons. People forget the insurgency, while extremely vicious and quite capable of grabbing headlines, is actually very weak militarily. They aren't remotely a match heads-up even for the 170,000 half-assed troops now being fielded by the democratic Iraqi gov’t. Setting off roadside bombs and running away from every fight is not exactly a show of strength in the contest over who rules Iraq. The insurgents can't take or hold an inch of ground; Fallujah was the last place they even tried. And the democratic gov’t gets stronger every day. In two years, the Iraqi troops will number 250,000+ and be much better trained and equipped. The gov't also has $2.5 billion a month in oil income on its side. The insurgency has only what the Baathists have stashed and Al Qaeda can raise, and munitions in Iraq are getting more expensive, as are the not-very-committed mercenary thugs that carry out most of the attacks.
The problem is not that administration goals are being downgraded, it’s that people outside the administration are now setting a totally unrealistic goal of a violence-free Iraq as a condition for declaring victory. Ain't gonna happen, at least not anytime soon. Free and democratic, yes, maybe; as peaceful as Vermont, no. The essential condition of victory, control of the country, was mostly achieved in the first three weeks of the war, finalized after Fallujah, and cemented firmly into place by the standing up of the Iraqi forces, who are now good enough to stand their ground: they have not lost a single police station or checkpoint to insurgents
Looking back at our successful transitions of fascist states to free democracies, it’s easy to spot a trend regarding troop deployments. So, when are our troops coming home from those 60-year German and Japanese quagmires, anyway? How about that 50-year Korean quagmire?