There’s a truth the Democratic presidential candidates can't handle: the
success of the "surge" in Iraq. The addition of American
troops and the adoption of a new strategy of protecting the civilian population
has now dramatically reduced the level of violence in Baghdad
and pacified other parts of Iraq
as well. But the Democratic candidates insist on pretending otherwise.
It isn't clear whether they were uninformed, out of touch, mistaken,
politically fearful, or knowingly dishonest when they were asked to comment on
the surge during an ABC television debate Saturday night in New Hampshire. In any case, their refusal to
acknowledge success in Iraq
marked a low point in the Democratic campaign.
The most disappointing answer came from Barack Obama, the frontrunner in the
race and a candidate who touts himself as one who would end political
polarization in Washington
and forge bipartisan solutions. But he's not likely to produce any
bipartisanship on Iraq.
Obama claimed the decision by Sunnis in Iraq to embrace American forces was
a response to the Democratic capture of Congress in the 2006 election. Sunnis
in Anbar province "started to see, after the Democrats were elected in
2006, you know what?" They saw the likelihood of a withdrawal of U.S. troops and
feared they "would be left very vulnerable to the Shias," Obama said.
So they joined the Americans.
This is a figment of Obama's imagination. There's no evidence for this
explanation--quite the contrary. Even before the 2006 election, Sunnis had
begun to turn against al Qaeda, their one-time ally in the insurgency, and its
brutal tactics. Their rebellion against al Qaeda even has a name, the Sunni
Awakening. Desperate for help against al Qaeda terrorists that they turned to
The Sunni rebellion has now spread to other provinces, particularly those
with mixed Sunni-Shia populations. And political reconciliation between Sunnis
and Shia is underway at the provincial level. Obama should have known this.
Perhaps he did but was wary of veering from his anti-Iraq position. His bizarre
take on the Sunnis remains exclusive to him.
Bill Richardson was worse than Obama. Calling Iraq "a massive failure,"
he made a string of inaccurate claims. He said there had been no
reconciliation. Wrong. He said there had been no sharing of oil revenues.
Wrong. He said the Iraq
government had made no effort to train more security forces. Wrong. He said
there was only a political solution in Iraq but not a military solution.
The truth is, both are required.
John Edwards provided a whopper of his own. He said the withdrawal of
British troops from southern Iraq
caused "a significant reduction in violence." In fact, it was the
British presence--not the withdrawal--for so many months that had pacified that
Hillary Clinton also refused to acknowledge any success in Iraq. She
reaffirmed what she told General David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, last
September during a Senate hearing. Then, she said she had to "suspend
disbelief" to accept Petraeus's testimony that the surge was working.
Did she still feel that way about the surge? "That's right," Clinton told debate
moderator Charles Gibson, the ABC News anchor. "Because, remember, the
purpose behind the surge was to create the space and time for political
reconciliation, for the Iraqi government to do what only it can do and trying
to deal with the myriad of unresolved problems that confront it."
Absent Iraqi action, "it's time to bring our troops
home and to bring them home as quickly and responsibly as possible," she
at least partially correct. A goal of the surge was to create a political
environment conducive to reconciliation and other positive steps by the Iraqi
government. But that is "a" goal, not "the" goal as Clinton suggested.
Another goal is to reduce the violence and secure Baghdad and protect the city's residents.
That has been achieved. Still another is to defeat al Qaeda in Iraq. That is
close to being achieved.
The Democratic candidates have now left themselves in the embarrassing
position of denying reality. And they are at odds with many Democrats who've traveled
recently and concluded the surge is succeeding.
It's too much to expect for Democrats to abandon their antiwar position on Iraq. That
would alienate the large antiwar bloc of voters in the Democratic party.
But there's another option--the honest alternative. They could have noted
the surge is working, but that much more needs to be done in Iraq. And if
the Iraqi government does what's required, that might call for a new policy.
But Iraqi leaders must move quickly, since Americans are still dying in Iraq. At the
moment, however, there's no reason to expect serious political progress at the
national level in Iraq.
So the only policy that makes sense is to begin withdrawal of troops.
Sad to say, none of the Democratic candidates came close to saying anything