Commentary Magazine


The New CW

The security progress in Iraq this year is so overwhelming and obvious that even critics of the war cannot gainsay it. And now, belatedly, we are seeing the inevitable political ramifications in this country of that progress. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, for example, we read:

As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy. Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains…. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war—a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters—they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military…. “The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it—how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”

In the Financial Times, Clive Crook writes

Up to now, Democrats have been stinting in their recognition that the situation in Iraq has improved: “Yes, violence is down a bit, but….” That is the wrong posture. They need to celebrate the success, as long as it lasts, as enthusiastically as the Republicans. They also need to stop harrying the administration with symbolic war-funding measures demanding a timetable for rapid withdrawal, as though nothing has changed. This would take little away from their larger valid criticisms of the war and of its conduct until very recently. And it is not as though Iraq is all the Democrats have going for them in this election – they are on to a winner with healthcare. Any suspicion that they are rooting for defeat in Iraq could sink them.

And in Newsweek Charles Peters, founder of the Washington Monthly, writes

I have been troubled by the reluctance of my fellow liberals to acknowledge the progress made in Iraq in the last six months, a reluctance I am embarrassed to admit that I have shared. Giving Gen. David Petraeus his due does not mean we have to start saying it was a great idea to invade Iraq. It remains the terrible idea it always was. And the occupation that followed has been until recently a continuing disaster, causing the death or maiming of far too many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Still, the fact is that the situation in Iraq, though some violence persists, is much improved since the summer. Why do liberals not want to face this fact, let alone ponder its implications?

These accounts reinforce what some observers have been saying for months now: the Democratic Party crossed into treacherous political territory when its leadership declared the “surge” to be lost even before it was in place. This mistake was compounded when scores of Democrats denied, and even seemed to get agitated at, the progress the United States military was making in Iraq; when Democrats went out of their way to attack the credibility of General David Petraeus, the architect of our success there; and when they persisted, and continue to persist, in their attempts to subvert a military strategy that is showing extraordinary gains.

The better things got in Iraq, the more frantic the Democratic leadership seemed to get. While it is entirely legitimate for Democrats to criticize the Bush administration’s mistakes in Iraq, and while it was also understandable for them to be skeptical about the progress in the early part of this year, given the false summits we have experienced, what was unpardonable, according to Christopher Hitchens, was “the dank and sinister impression [liberals and Democrats] give that the worse the tidings, the better they would be pleased.”

That this happened at all ranks among the most disheartening and disturbing political developments we have seen. That there will be an accounting for it is only just—and, perhaps, only now a matter of time.

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