None Dare Call It 'Victory'

“The security improvements in most (Baghdad) neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb. … The number of bodies appearing in Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about five a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March…”

I am not reading this in a pro-Bush administration publication, but on the front page of the Nov. 20 edition of The New York Times, a newspaper that is editorially opposed to the war and the Bush administration and has mostly carried gloomy stories leading many to think America has lost it.

The previous day, The Washington Post editorialized, “The evidence is now overwhelming that the ‘surge’ of U.S. military forces in Iraq this year has been, in purely military terms, a remarkable success. By every metric used to measure the war — total attacks, U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, suicide bombings, roadside bombs — there has been an enormous improvement since January.”

In a “normal” war, this would be cause for national celebration, but this is not a normal war. Leaders of the Democratic Party are unwilling to celebrate because they have invested all their political capital in the notion that America isn’t winning, can’t win and must not win. If voters were to embrace victory and not defeat, they would likely reject the Democratic presidential nominee, if only for demonstrating poor judgment.

Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail are retreating to a fallback position that no political progress is being made. That, too, may turn out not to be the case. On Oct. 22, a reconciliation meeting took place in Baghdad between prominent Sunni and Shia sheiks. According to Colonel Jon Lehr, commander, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, who moderated the meeting, the two sheiks pledged to put aside their differences for the good of the community.

The same New York Times report appears to confirm that reconciliation might not be unobtainable: “…for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of (Baghdad) … while there (are) still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again.”

There is still a very long way to go. Press reports indicate al-Qaida forces have moved to Northern Iraq where they are setting off improvised explosive devices and engaging in suicide bombings, but American and Iraqi forces have them on the run. Securing Iraq’s capital city would be both a substantive and symbolic success.

Broadcast television has mostly ignored the Iraq story in recent weeks. Tyndall Weekly, part of ADT Research, which monitors the Top 10 stories covered by broadcast news, found that Iraq had dropped off the list for several weeks in September and October, reappearing as number six in the week ending Nov. 2.

Can the Democrats come back from their embrace of defeat to change the subject? It isn’t likely, as Republicans will most assuredly question their poor judgment and “cheerleading” for the enemy. Republicans will rightly ask whether Democrats should be trusted to make correct judgments about the wider war on terrorism if they made the wrong judgment on Iraq, an important component of that war.

Democrats continue to be politically vulnerable on national security. An Iraq victory or even major progress toward victory could become a winning issue for Republicans. Not known for quoting approvingly from the mainstream media, Republicans might willingly do so in the case of The New York Times, the Washington Post and this morsel from Newsweek foreign correspondent Rod Nordland: “For the first time … returning to Baghdad after an absence of four months, I can actually say that things do seem to have gotten better, and in ways that may even be durable…”

The Pentagon labeled America’s response to the 9/11 attacks “Enduring Freedom.” There’s a way to go yet, but this moniker might turn out to have been prophetic.