This post appears on "Comment is Free".
It has been said periodically on Comment is Free, but bears remorseless recapitulation. Since 9/11, some parts of the left have crossed over to the reactionary right, and the Guardian, till recently the voice of British liberalism, has become their sounding board.
To mark the anniversary of the Iraq war, the newspaper carried an article by Seumas Milne, declaring: "The unprovoked aggression launched by the US and Britain against Iraq five years ago today has already gone down across the world as, to borrow the words of President Roosevelt, 'a day which will live in infamy'." If you believe Saddam Hussein's regime was a lawful authority of pacific character, the violation of whose sovereignty was comparable to the attack on Pearl Harbour by a xenophobic imperialism, then you might reflect on how easily you confirm the case advanced by Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens and me. Your cast of mind is not anti-war, but anti-American and anti-British.
Milne is hardly disinterested in complaining about "a renewed barrage of spin about the success of the US surge". But the state and prospects of Iraq stand independently of the wishes of its observers. The evidence suggests that, not by accident but owing primarily to a remarkable military command, the US-led coalition has belatedly devised a counterinsurgency strategy that works. The surge in US troops - the most visible sign of that strategy - has not turned the country round: the political process is dysfunctional; public services are inadequate. But Iraqis are dramatically safer.
That is a direct outcome of President Bush's having ignored the recommendations of James Baker's Iraq Study Group to wind down combat operations and parley with Iran and Syria. The Petraeus doctrine stresses: "The cornerstone of any COIN [counterinsurgency] effort is establishing security for the civilian populace. Without a secure environment, no permanent reforms can be implemented and disorder spreads." The surge is intended to provide that secure environment. The most recent quarterly report "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq", presented to Congress this month, estimates that monthly levels of civilian deaths across the country have fallen by more than 70% since the surge reached its peak last summer. If you are reluctant to credit official figures, then consider the impressions of an independent observer, Angelina Jolie, writing last month in her capacity as UNHCR goodwill ambassador: "As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: UN staff and those of non-governmental organisations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs."
If there is one person spinning here, it is not General Petraeus. It's Milne. In another article last week, he brandished "evidence ... that the US-sponsored Sunni militias that have been at the heart of the surge strategy - the so-called 'awakening councils' - are already showing signs of falling apart." His claimed large numbers that were quitting the councils amounted to 1,300 in Abu Ghraib and Tikrit. He did not mention that the total strength of the councils is over 90,000. It may be no bad thing if the numbers of these militiamen are reduced. There are too many to be integrated into Iraq's police and army - the US plan envisages about a fifth of them, with the rest being given civilian jobs and vocational training. (The US military, incidentally, does not arm these groups: they are already armed, and everyone who joins them has to provide biometric information and register their weaponry.)
Recruiting Sunni volunteer forces is a calculated risk, especially as the programme spreads beyond Anbar province. But the counterinsurgency strategy has produced results that are a prerequisite for national reconciliation and political advance. Take Fallujah, the scene of two major battles in 2004 as well as the horrific image of the charred bodies of four American civilians strung from a bridge. That city, according to its council leader, is alive again. Its population now approaches its pre-assault level of 300,000. Consider also the damage Coalition forces have inflicted on al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Qaida has lost sanctuaries in Baghdad and Anbar province, and an increasing number of foreign jihadists are trying to flee the country.
Regardless of your position on the Iraq war, there are two developments that are undeniable. First, Iraq's prospects no longer appear bleak to the people who matter. Yesterday, Channel 4 News released a poll of Iraqi opinion that showed misgivings about the war (a plurality, 48% to 29%, believed the invasion had not been in Iraq's best interests), but hopefulness about the future. Most (55%) felt that "at the moment things in Iraq are generally going in the right direction". More (68%) were either "very optimistic" or "fairly optimistic" about Iraq's future. Still more (80%) considered security in their locality was either "very peaceful and stable" or "fairly peaceful and stable".
The second development is more parochial, and is where we came in. No British institution in recent decades has conveyed a more authoritative and creditable voice in foreign affairs than the Guardian - on the transatlantic alliance, European integration, the Balkan wars and much else. But most recently, where Iraq is concerned, the newspaper - in what passes for news reporting and not only comment - has taken a stand alongside the scum of this earth. That is some aberration. Let us hope it is short-lived.