Even in a best-case scenario, Iraq is going to have an endemic terrorism problem for long, long after the U.S. military has left. Iraq still gets the equivalent of an Oklahoma City every other month or so. But this terrorism receives little or no attention in the American news media. For a bombing to get mentioned on TV news, it has to be big. The war in Iraq has vanished from the attention of the American news viewing and news reading public.
Some of this is understandable. The U.S. role in Iraq's ongoing slow burn is almost done (except for what I suspect will be the U.S. serving as a rent-an-air force until later in this decade when the Iraqi Air Force finally takes delivery of the fighter planes the government's been looking to buy). With the exception of the big, splashy AQ bombings, a lot of Iraq's disputes are increasingly fractal and maddeningly hard to follow. The eventual fate of the fifth most corrupt country on the planet earth should be of interest to the citizens of the country who have vastly remade it's political structures, but the American attention span is famously short.
But then, we go to Afghanistan. The U.S. Marines are about to Fallujah the town of Marja in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. This upcoming offensive has made its way into the news to some degree, but even it tends to only get a small blurb in the media. Obama's two troop increases in Afghanistan generated little of the passion that has accompanied similar movements by, saw, GWB. The ongoing Predator war receives precious little coverage at all, in spite of the fact that we're carrying out regular un-assasinations in the territory that's kind of part of a nation with which we're not at war. Now then, I largely approve of the "warheads on the foreheads" approach of BHO, but, as someone noted here a while back, we should at least be talking about this. At all.
What's most interesting is that even movement conservatism seems to have given up on talk of defense. Oh, there's things like the occasional complaint that we really should be torturing rather than killing terrorists (with the rhetorical fig-leaf of saying "interrogation"). But there's nothing really substantial. Even the so-called Tea Party movement has reverted back to the stock phrases of taxes and big government. The last bit is pretty amazing, because so much of the kooky we saw in the summer of 2008 was about how BHO was a secret Muslim who would endeavor to bring about America's defeat in the global war on terror. But now, even the really angry folks are talking about how Mexicans are getting their tax dollars. In answer to a certain song, it appears, that yes, yes they have forgotten.
Americans, almost all of them, have war fatigue. Even though the war continues, we quietly wish that it would go away. This reaction is perfectly reasonable. Indeed, I'd be very, very concerned for the health of a culture that reveled in unending war. So even as the war goes on, folks ignore it.
This ignoring war is only possible because of an all-volunteer military. If, as was often proclaimed shortly after 9/11, this war is an epic, once in a generation struggle, it's an opt-in epic struggle. So, I may follow things fairly closely because having been a Marine I still feel a great deal of interest in what the Marine Corps is up to and because my brother is smack dab in the middle of Helmand province, but most other folks can simply change the channel without their life being affected at all.
And since the Thing We're no Longer Calling the War on Terror is probably going to be going on for a while and will probably involve lots of small-scale stuff in the nasty ungoverned parts of the world, the best model that I can think of early 21st century America following is that of late nineteenth-century Britain. There were brushfire wars aplenty, but in a country with no conscription, the public could go on with its life with a sense of detachment.
Maybe, though, if we manage to get Afghanistan at least somewhat closer to a state in which it's not in danger of falling back under Taliban rule, the U.S. will be able to carry on with small-scale stuff that can be safely filed away under "it's getting taken care of." There are certain instances in which, in a world as complex as that of the early 21st century, we should be able to simply say, "it's getting taken care of." As I've mentioned here in the past, the fact that I know what the neighborhoods of Baghdad are and what LIBOR is means that someone in power has screwed up very, very badly. With an administration that displays a bit more competence, there are many facets of life and government that probably can safely be left to the professionals. But then, I don't make policy, so my final prognosis is that I don't know.