Confounding the prejudging critics who called the U.S. troop surge in Iraq a failure before it began, Gen. David Petraeus cited a slew of favorable results in his report to Congress. Terrorist attacks are down, Iraqi civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down, Baghdad is much less violent, former insurgent hotbed Anbar province is substantially tamed and al-Qaeda-Iraq is on the run with hundreds of its key operatives killed or captured.
Only the willfully blind could miss the significance of all this. After near disaster in 2006, U.S. forces have regained the military initiative in Iraq. For that, credit the 30,000 additional U.S. troops “surged” to Iraq, a new counterinsurgency strategy and, in the brilliant Petraeus and his innovative deputies, the best command team we’ve ever had in Iraq.
None of this matters, of course, to those long since politically or ideologically invested in an American failure in Iraq. The Democrats’ congressional leadership and every Democratic presidential candidate are calling for rapid troop withdrawals and damn the consequences, for Iraq and the entire incendiary Middle East.
That’s patently a strategy for defeat; one that ignores, for example, the Baker-Hamilton Commission’s dire warnings about the consequences of leaving Iraq a failed state, a sure haven for terrorists, and an accelerant for the Middle East tinderbox.
Wobbly Republicans, John Warner and Richard Lugar notably among them, have simply lost heart. Their proffered “course change” – withdraw U.S. combat forces and shift to a training and logistical support role inside Iraq – could be dubbed, as Henry Kissinger would put it, defeat on the installment plan.
The liberal-left zealots of MoveOn.org saw fit to libel, in their full-page ad in The New York Times, Petraeus as “General Betray Us,” the crudest calumny in memory of an American commander in wartime. Imagine a comparable spectacle in World War II – Eisenhower or MacArthur summoned home to be hectored by pontificating politicians and branded as liars for their positive progress reports.
A charitable interpretation would assume that the MoveOn cabal and its billionaire backer George Soros know nothing about Petraeus, a soldier-scholar (Princeton Ph.D.) whose entire professional life has been devoted to the Army’s ethos of “duty, honor, country.” The shabby slurs that Petraeus’ report was written by the White House and that his data were “cooked” are no less unworthy, and untrue. As Petraeus noted at the outset of his congressional testimony, he wrote his report himself and vetted it with no one.
The liberal Brookings Institution’s respected Iraq expert Michael O’Hanlon, a hard-nosed critic of the Bush administration’s past conduct of the war, vouches for the validity of Petraeus’ data. O’Hanlon, columnist and author Ralph Peters (a retired Army lieutenant colonel) and other highly qualified and experienced observers have returned from recent visits to Iraq deeply impressed by the gains they witnessed.
Does it strike anyone as profoundly incongruous that some of the same Senate Democrats who lavishly praised Petraeus last January while unanimously confirming him as the new U.S. commander in Iraq now find it convenient to question his integrity and veracity when he reports military successes? Given that Democrats hope to ride an unpopular war all the way to the White House, there’s more than a whiff of political expediency in the air.
Granted, Democrats and Republicans alike are on firmer ground in decrying the Iraqi government’s lack of progress in sectarian reconciliation. The somber report given by Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, could only damn with faint praise, citing examples of local “bottom-up” political progress. Still, Crocker could cite as highly encouraging the remarkable communiqueÐ signed Aug. 26 by the top Shiite, Suuni and Kurdish leaders signaling agreement on de-Baathification and provincial powers within Iraq’s federal system.
But however slow Iraq’s process of political and sectarian reconciliation (hardly surprising given Iraq’s traumatized history), the larger question is whether a U.S. retreat now on the vital security front would make things better or worse. The inescapable conclusion: worse, far worse.
President Bush followed the Petraeus and Crocker testimony with an address to the nation Thursday evening. He said the surge’s military gains would permit bringing 5,700 U.S. troops home by Christmas and reduce the overall U.S. force in Iraq from 20 to 15 combat brigades by next July. But Bush also reaffirmed a continuing U.S. commitment to stabilizing Iraq, a pledge that would keep thousands of U.S. troops there in some role after (probably long after) Bush leaves office in January 2009.
The Washington Post’s editorial page – no cheerleader for Bush – called that “the least bad plan” for future Iraq policy.
Where the Bush plan differs dramatically from what Democrats propose is that the president would continue Petraeus’ surge strategy through next summer. That would sustain the precious military momentum won so far this year, further hammer al-Qaeda and buy more time for the Iraqis to get their own political house in order.
This is not charity for Iraq bought at the price of American blood and treasure. It is, rather, resolute perseverance toward goals, including a stable, non-terrorist Iraq, that are vital to America’s national security.
That these goals are still achievable at all is the true measure of the troop surge, Gen. Petraeus’ inspired leadership and the continuing valor and sacrifice of America’s soldiers and Marines. May God be with them.