General David Petraeus was back in Washington
last week. President Bush has promoted him to chief of Central Command
(CENTCOM), which requires Senate confirmation. Under Petraeus's leadership, Iraq has
changed dramatically. Why can't the Democrats change with it?
Bush announced the surge in January 2007. Iraq was a violent place. Al Qaeda
held large swaths of territory. Shiite death squads roamed much of Baghdad. The Iraqi
political class seemed feckless. Hence Bush's decision to send more troops,
replace General George Casey with Petraeus, and change the mission from force
protection and search-and-destroy to population security. The new strategy's
strongest proponent and supporter was Senator John McCain.
Democrats opposed the surge almost without exception. Barack Obama said that
the new policy would neither "make a dent" in the violence plaguing Iraq nor
"change the dynamics" there. A month after the president's
announcement, Obama declared it was time to remove American combat troops from Iraq. In April,
as the surge brigades were on their way to the combat zone, Senate Democratic
leader Harry Reid proclaimed "this war is lost" and that U.S. troops
should pack up and come home. In July, as surge operations were underway, the New
York Times editorialized that "it is time for the United States to leave Iraq." The
Times's editorial writers recognized Iraq "could be even bloodier
and more chaotic after Americans leave." But that didn't matter.
"Keeping troops in Iraq
will only make things worse."
Wrong. When Petraeus returned to Washington
in September 2007, he reported that the numbers of violent incidents, civilian
deaths, ethnosectarian killings, and car and suicide bombings had declined
dramatically from the previous December. Why? The surge--and the broadening
"Awakening" movement, which began when the sheikhs in Anbar province
rebelled against al Qaeda in late 2006 and accelerated when the tribal leaders
would not abandon them in 2007.
How did Democrats respond? MoveOn.org bought a full-page in the Times
suggesting Petraeus had betrayed the American people. Senator Hillary Clinton
said that to accept Petraeus's report required the "willing suspension of
disbelief." Those Democrats who did not question the facts moved the goal
posts instead. They said the surge may have reduced violence, but had not led
to the real goal: political reconciliation.
Petraeus returned again to Washington
in April of this year. Violence had been reduced further. American casualties
had declined significantly. Al Qaeda was virtually limited to the northern city
of Mosul. There
were more Iraqi Security Forces, and those forces were increasingly capable.
The Iraqi government had passed a variety of laws promoting sectarian
reconciliation. And the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was demonstrating that
he was a national leader by meeting with Sunnis and launching military
operations against Shiite gangs and Iranian-backed "special groups"
in the southern port city of Basra.
Democrats responded this time by saying the Basra operation was a failure and that any
reduction in violence only meant Americans could come home sooner rather than
later. Wrong again, because (a) despite early missteps the Iraqi army had control
of Basra within
a couple of weeks, and (b) any precipitous, politically calculated American
withdrawal would clearly lead to more violence, not less. What is new is that
Petraeus's strategy and tactics, his patience and expertise, have succeeded and
now allow some of the surge brigades to return home without replacement--and
without a spike in killing. There's every reason to continue his strategy, not
abandon it and force a withdrawal.
On May 22, Petraeus was able to tell the Senate that
"the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in
over four years, and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an
even lower number of incidents." On May 10, Maliki traveled to Mosul to oversee the
launch of a campaign against al Qaeda. The number of attacks in Mosul has already been
reduced by 85 percent. Acting CENTCOM commander Martin Dempsey says that Al
Qaeda in Iraq
is at its weakest state since 2003. Also last week, Iraqi soldiers entered
radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr's Sadr
City stronghold in Baghdad. They met no resistance.
The Iraqi army and government have done exactly what Democrats have asked of
it, and the Democrats remain hostile. Their disdain and animosity has not
diminished one iota. Nor has their desire to abandon Iraq to a grim fate.
We keep hearing that this year's presidential election will be about
judgment. If so: advantage McCain. For when it comes to the surge, not only
have Obama and his party been in error; they have been inflexible in error.
They have been so committed to a false narrative of American defeat that they
cannot acknowledge the progress that has been made on the ground. That isn't
judgment. It's inanity.