The news out of Vice President Biden's one-day stop in Iraq yesterday - his seventh trip here in two years - might just be that there was no news at all.
Biden met with the predictable list of top officials: Prime Minister Maliki, President Talabani, Iraqiyya leader Iyad Allawi, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, U.S. Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, commander of U.S. forces Gen. Lloyd Austin and others. He spoke to U.S. troops and reiterated that the December deadline for withdrawing all forces would be met. The trip was most notable for the almost bland message that the Obama administration wanted to convey.
"I've got to say, it was very positive across the board," a senior administration official told reporters today on the flight home, following a stop in Afghanistan. "I think we came away feeling that the Iraqis … were in a good place."
How things have changed in Baghdad, where violence is down and political life has begun to assume a semblance of normality. The big crises in the Middle East this week are in Lebanon and Tunisia, not here. It's possible, apparently, for the American vice president to come to Iraq now and for it not to be a major news story.
Biden's meetings were held behind closed doors, so there was little coverage in the Iraqi media. U.S. reporters also had little new to write and a few major news organizations with bureaus in Baghdad - including this one - chose not to write a story at all.
Asked what the purpose of Biden's visit was, the administration official said it was to underscore that Iraq has had a "very significant achievement" in forming most of its new government. He raised the usual laundry list of challenges - an oil law, disputed internal boundaries, relations with neighboring countries, ending U.N. Chapter VII sanctions - with Iraqi officials.
Biden acknowledged that Iraq has "a long way to go," and just as he arrived three bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing at least two people and wounding a dozen. But gone are the days that a visit by an official from Washington would snarl traffic, dominate the headlines here and back home and produce days of news coverage. It's now possible to fly in for a day of meetings and fly home like just another business trip. That's perhaps the biggest takeaway of the Biden visit.