The Democrats won two elections in America - in 2006 and 2008 - on the strength of their ardent opposition to continuing the Iraq war, which the governing Republican party had championed and botched. That Barack Obama's plans to end 'combat' operations by August 2010 have been welcomed by both Republicans and Democrats shows the extent to which the debate has moved on from the three-year campaign season which finally came to a close last November. Iraq's increasing stability has made an orderly withdrawal seem sensible to all sides, while the war remains unpopular enough to render continued Republican jingoism unpolitic. In any case, within Washington, foreign policy issues have been swamped by economic concerns.
Yet the broad bipartisan support for Obama's plan also shows that the American system, outdated and perverse as it often seems, can at times still function as healthy democracy should. On his left, the President has congressional Democrats forcing him to justify the continued presence of 50,000 soldiers in the country for training Iraqi units and counter-terrorist activities; on the right he has Republicans obtaining assurances that there exists a 'Plan B' should the progress secured to date begin to unravel and the violence increase. But all have swung behind an eminently sensible compromise to end the occupation without unneccesarily jeapodising the gains made so far. It is of course relatively easy to secure bipartisan support for foreign policy, when so much of the ultimate decision making power for adventures abroad rests in the hands of the President. But the emergence of a rough centrist consensus concerning the Iraq war is undoubtedly a welcome contrast to the fractious factionalism that still infects domestic politics: a Beltway blessing of the tentative progress in Iraq.