In fact, President Bush laid down the standard of success when he announced the surge more than a year ago: "If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home." At the time, there were about 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Bush proposed to add up to 20,000 more troops... the surge was generally described as lasting six to eight months.
By last summer, the surge had actually added closer to 30,000 troops, making the total American troop count about 160,000. Today, there are still more than 150,000 American troops in Iraq. The official plan has been to get that number back down to 130,000 by July and then to keep going so that there would be about 100,000 American troops in Iraq by the time Bush leaves office. Lately, though, Gen. Petraeus has come up with another zenlike idea: He calls it a "pause." And the administration has signed on, meaning that the total number of American troops in Iraq will remain at 130,000 for an undetermined period.
So, the best that we can hope for, in terms of American troops risking their lives in Iraq, is that there will be just as many next July—and probably next January, when time runs out—as there were a year ago. The surge will have surged in and surged out, leaving us back where we started. Maybe the situation in Baghdad, or the whole country, will have improved. But apparently it won't have improved enough to risk an actual reduction in the American troop commitment.
Kinsley is making a basic point that (a weirdo-world morally consistent) President Bush would be on board with: we can't judge U.S. military "progress" in Iraq using the soft bigotry of low expectations.