Handling the specter of victory in Iraq

Paul Greenberg:

A specter is haunting the Democratic Party. The long-awaited defeat of American forces in Iraq, on which so many critics of this administration have built their fondest hopes, seems to have been delayed again and - unsettling thought - may not even materialize. Even the dreaded word, Victory, is being whispered.

Who would have thought it? Besides, of course, that dwindling minority of Americans who never gave up on the valor of America's armed forces - and the flexibility of their commanders, including their much-despised commander-in-chief. (This president's ratings in the polls have dropped almost as low as Harry Truman's during the Korean War.)

The turnaround in Iraq, aka The Surge, is proving embarrassing for the kind of critics of the war who dare not admit being embarrassed. To do so would be to entertain the unthinkable thought that they might, just might, have been wrong.

This is no time for critics of the war to go wobbly. Their outward confidence in American defeat must be preserved, at least till next November. Even if all the indicators they used to cite as evidence that the war was lost have begun to go in the opposite direction:

The number of enemy attacks has fallen month after month since the Surge began to take effect.

Mortar and rocket assaults in Iraq, however highly publicized and bloody awful in themselves, are down to their lowest rate in almost two years.

The number of civilian deaths has fallen dramatically. Iraqi refugees are returning in growing numbers despite continuing risks. Once again they're voting with their feet, this time in favor of a better, not worse, Iraq.

This new strategy in Iraq is really an old one. It amounts to the systematic application of classic counter-insurgency tactics under a new commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, who wrote the Army manual on the subject. The results have been dramatic, and quicker than anyone might have hoped:

In once chaotic provinces like Anbar, an alliance with Sunni tribesmen is paying off as old enemies become new allies. American commanders and diplomats on the ground are no longer waiting for the ever-dithering "government" in Baghdad to pacify the country; they're making a separate peace, and it seems to be taking hold.

Even in Shi'ite Iraq, the new strategy emphasizes a patchwork of practical alliances with one militia or another rather than depending on the theoretical and only theoretical sway of a central government that hasn't governed in some time.

The result of all this is that al-Qaida is in undeniable retreat, even rout, all across Iraq as ad-hoc arrangements that work have replaced airy schemes that don't.

Every war will surprise you, as an American commander named Eisenhower once said, and doubtless this one will continue to surprise, too. But by now only the ideologically blinded can deny that the Surge is showing signs of success.

Those who urge an immediate withdrawal from Iraq have already written the sad history of that war, if a bit prematurely. Why should Democratic leaders trouble to revise it now, after having convinced so many Americans that defeat is unavoidable? It's so much easier to pretend that nothing has changed than to take new facts into account. It would be embarrassing. Better to stick with denial.

Here is what you can expect the Democrats to do if their candidate wins the presidency. They will follow the military commander's phased withdrawal plan and claim that it is what we should have done years ago. In other words they will ignore the steps needed to get to the point of phased withdrawals and claim that the withdrawals themselves have led to the victory. Being a Democrat means never having to admit you were wrong, unless you wished you had never voted for victory to begin with.


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