Defense & National Security

Democrats Change Tune on Iraq

As President Obama praises the latest election in Iraq, and Vice President Joe Biden says the war could be one of the White House’s greatest achievements, it is important to remember that if they had their way in 2007 none of this would have happened.

In politically charged Washington back then, both men, as well as other leading Democrats, abandoned—and even scolded—Gen. David Petraeus, as the four-star general was in the fight of his life to prevent America from losing a critical war.

Democrats aligned themselves with Washington’s most outrageous left-wing pressure group, Moveon.org, which in ads branded George W. Bush as Hitler and Petraeus as a traitor.

Both Obama and Biden opposed the 2007 troop surge that snatched victory from sure defeat. They wanted an immediate troop withdrawal, which would have made the March parliamentary elections impossible and likely would have turned over Iraq to al Qaeda, Baath party henchmen and Iranian-backed Shiite extremists.

Now that the surge has seemingly been a success, the Obama Administration is claiming Iraq as its victory.

“I am very optimistic about Iraq,” said Biden. “I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”

It was Petraeus’s appearance in Washington that Sept. 11, 2007—the sixth anniversary of al Qaeda’s attacks on America—that, more than any other day in the Iraq debate, showed the Democrats eager to pin a defeat on Bush and the country.

Petraeus, then the top man in Iraq, arrived in Washington with statistics and first-hand observations to buttress testimony that Bush’s eight-month-old troop surge was beginning to pay dividends. A fiasco, after four costly years, had the first hints of ultimate victory.

He was entering hostile territory. Moveon.Org greeted him with that infamous New York Times ad that accused the general of betraying his country. Protesters heckled his opening remarks. The Government Accountability Office sided with Democrats and all but accused Petraeus of producing phony numbers. Several months earlier, the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, already had declared the Iraq war lost.

"I believe … that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week," Reid told journalists.

Then the real bombardment started.

Biden, then Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, called for stopping the surge in its tracks. Some of his comments to Petraeus that day:

• "Are we any closer to a lasting political settlement in Iraq at the national level today than we were when the surge began eight months ago? And if we continue the surge for another six months, is there any evidence that the Sunnis, the Shi’a and the Kurds will stop killing each other and start governing together? In my judgment, I must tell you, based on my experience and my observation here as well as in country, the answer to both those questions is no."

• "In continuing the surge of forces for another six months, is that likely to change that reality? The conclusion I’ve reached is no. The surge, for whatever tactical or temporary security gains it might achieve, is at the service of a fundamentally flawed strategy."

• "We should stop the surge and start bringing our troops home. We should end a political strategy in Iraq that cannot succeed and begin one that can."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then a presidential candidate and Senate Armed Services Committee member, insulted Petraeus by saying his testimony was not believable. Some of her statements:

• "Despite what I view as your rather extraordinary efforts in your testimony both yesterday and today, I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief. In any of the metrics that have been referenced in your many hours of testimony, any fair reading of the advantages and disadvantages accruing post-surge, in my view, end up on the down side."

• "I give you tremendous credit for presenting as positive a view of a rather grim reality, and I believe that you and certainly the very capable people working with both of you were dealt a very hard hand, and it’s a hand that is unlikely to improve, in my view."

President Obama then sat on Biden’s committee. During the hearing, he delivered a long lecture, leaving only a few minutes for questions.

"I think that some of the frustration you hear from some of the questioners,” Obama said, “is that we have now set the bar so low that modest improvement in what was a completely chaotic situation, to the point where now we just have the levels of intolerable violence that existed in June of 2006, is considered success. And it’s not. This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake."

The Democrats’ denial over the surge did not stop in 2008, even as Petraeus’ statistics on violence kept improving.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN that winter. "There haven’t been gains. The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure. This is a failure."

Here is what Petraeus told Congress over two years ago: "As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena. Though improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq, for example, has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks. During this time, ethno-sectarian violence has also been reduced and the number of overall civilian deaths has declined, though both are clearly still at troubling levels."

As the American people watch the Iraqis vote again, and American troops continue to withdraw, they can judge who was right on September 11, 2007.


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