It’s time to declare victory and go home. That was the formula that Senator George Aiken famously suggested for Vietnam in 1966. Today, it bears relevance to Iraq. No, not to the U. S. military presence in that country, but to the Democrats in Congress.
Since November, the Pelosi-Reid Democrats have demonstrated shocking disdain for the well-being of our country. Their only concern has been to defeat or embarrass George W. Bush. Once, one of the noblest American traditions held that politics stops at the water’s edge. But, for the Pelosi-Reid Democrats, it seems that the inverse is true: namely, that national interests stop when the opportunity arises for partisan point-scoring.
In the last few weeks, however, a number of Democratic voices have been raised to observe that General Petraeus’s surge strategy seems to be working in Iraq. “We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution in a widely quoted op-ed. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois reported from Baghdad that our forces are “making some measurable progress.” And Anthony Cordesman, a strong critic of the war, said after a recent visit to the country, “real military progress is taking place.”
In view of these hopeful assessments, it would be criminally irresponsible to deny Petraeus the time and resources he needs to see if he can pull America’s chestnuts from the fire. It would also, in the end, be bad politics. Congressional Democrats should drop their efforts to force surrender upon us. Instead, they should try to take credit for the fact that things are improving. They can argue plausibly that by holding Bush’s feet to the fire, they forced him to adjust strategy, bringing on a new field commander and authorizing the surge. The Democrats should, in short, declare victory and go home.
The evidence of gains being made on the ground in Iraq continues to pile up.
See, for instance, this article by Robert Burns, the Associated Press’s veteran military writer. Burns has just returned from his 18th trip to Iraq to report: “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working.”
Or this new report by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He traveled to Iraq with Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution recently, and while his findings are not quite as positive as theirs, he nevertheless writes: “While all the half-truths and spin of the past have built up a valid distrust of virtually anything the Administration says about Iraq, real military progress is taking place and the U.S. team in Baghdad is actively seeking matching political and economic progress.”
contentions would like to welcome our latest blogger, Peter Wehner. Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, formerly served as the deputy assistant to the President and as the Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Michael Ignatieff, formerly of Harvard and now deputy leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, has written a piece in the New York Times Magazine that is both a reflection on political leadership and an honest, self-condemning explanation of why he supported the war in Iraq. Ignatieff’s essay, “Getting Iraq Wrong: What The War Has Taught Me About Political Judgment,” places him in a long list of commentators who have bared their souls and asked for forgiveness—or at least understanding—for supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
A few points about the essay. It appears just six days after the climate-changing column by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution (“A War We Might Just Win”). Ignatieff is penning his confessional at precisely the moment when the security situation is improving, at a faster rate than almost anyone could have imagined just seven months ago.
This does not mean the war is on the verge of being won; General Petraeus has said it’s the most challenging environment he’s witnessed in more than 30 years in uniform. What we do know is that when it comes to security and “bottom up” reconciliation, the arc of events is now favorable. (A decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and Ignatieff may one day have to write a mea culpa about his mea culpa.)
Critics of the troop surge have been arguing that it isn’t making any difference on the ground—the only thing it’s doing, they claim, is driving up American casualties. The facts are starting to contradict their claims.
I’ve recently posted a couple of items noting that reliable on-the-ground observers—namely Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of The Brookings Institution and John Burns of the New York Times—have found that violence against Iraqis is falling. Now comes news that the number of American casualties is also declining, at least temporarily.
There were spikes in the number of Americans killed in action in April (104), May (126), and June (101)—up from 83 in January, 81 in February, and 81 in March. The increases were to be expected because this was the period when more American troops were arriving in Iraq, and were starting to go on the offensive against Shiite and Sunni insurgents. All along, the theory behind the surge was that while there might be a short-term spike in casualties, eventually, as the troops started to get the situation under better control, our losses would decline.
Say what you will about reporters in general or the New York Times in particular: John Burns breaks all the stereotypes. As the Times’ longtime Baghdad bureau chief, he has been a fearless and honest chronicler of the war. He has presented plenty of evidence of disasters, but he isn’t afraid to highlight successes when they occur, and to warn of the dangers of American disengagement.
An interesting article appeared in the Sunday New York Times updating developments in Basra. Things are not going so well in this large city in southern Iraq, where various Shiite militias are battling one another for control of political power, oil, and various criminal enterprises.
The British had prided themselves for years on having a better approach than their more heavy-handed American counterparts to counterinsurgency, but, lo and behold, four years into the war, the trends seem more positive in Anbar than in Basra.
What went wrong?