No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. . . . If the U.S. provides sustained support to the Iraqi government — in security, governance, and development — there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state. — Anthony Cordesman, “The Situation in Iraq: A Briefing from the Battlefield,” Feb. 13, 2008
This from a man who was a severe critic of the postwar occupation of Iraq and who, as author Peter Wehner points out, is no wide-eyed optimist. In fact, in May 2006, Cordesman had written that “no one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good.” Now, however, there is simply no denying the remarkable improvements in Iraq since the surge began a year ago.
Unless you’re a Democrat. As Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.), put it, “Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq.” Their Senate leader, Harry Reid, declares the war already lost. Their presidential candidates (eight of them at the time) unanimously oppose the surge. Then the evidence begins trickling in.
We get news of the Anbar Awakening, which has now spread to other Sunni areas and Baghdad. The sectarian civil strife that the Democrats insisted was the reason for us to leave dwindles to the point of near disappearance. Much of Baghdad is returning to normal. There are 90,000 neighborhood volunteers — ordinary citizens who act as auxiliary police and vital informants on terror activity — starkly symbolizing the insurgency’s loss of popular support. Captured letters of al-Qaeda leaders reveal despair as they are driven — mostly by Iraqi Sunnis, their own Arab co-religionists — to flight and into hiding.
After agonizing years of searching for the right strategy and the right general, we are winning. How do Democrats react? From Nancy Pelosi to Barack Obama the talking point is the same: Sure, there is military progress. We could have predicted that. (They in fact had predicted the opposite, but no matter.) But it’s all pointless unless you get national reconciliation.
“National” is a way to ignore what is taking place at the local and provincial level, such as Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, scion of the family that dominates the largest Shiite party in Iraq, traveling last October to Anbar in an unprecedented gesture of reconciliation with the Sunni sheiks.
Doesn’t count, you see. Democrats demand nothing less than federal-level reconciliation, and it has to be expressed in actual legislation.
The objection was not only highly legalistic but politically convenient: Very few (including me) thought this would be possible under the Maliki government. Then last week, indeed on the day Cordesman published his report, it happened. Mirabile dictu, the Iraqi parliament approved three very significant pieces of legislation.
First, a provincial powers law that turned Iraq into arguably the most federal state in the entire Arab world. The provinces get not only power but elections by Oct. 1. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has long been calling this the most crucial step to political stability. It will allow, for example, the pro-American Anbar sheiks to become the legitimate rulers of their province, exercise regional autonomy and forge official relations with the Shiite-dominated central government.
Second, parliament passed a partial amnesty for prisoners, 80 percent of whom are Sunni. Finally, it approved a $48 billion national budget that allocates government revenues — about 85 percent of which are from oil — to the provinces. Kurdistan, for example, gets one sixth.
What will the Democrats say now? They will complain that there is still no oil-distribution law. True. But oil revenues are being distributed to the provinces in the national budget. The fact that parliament could not agree on a permanent formula for the future simply means that it will be allocating oil revenues year-by-year as part of the budget process. Is that a reason to abandon Iraq to al-Qaeda and Iran?
Despite all the progress military and political, the Democrats remain unwavering in their commitment to withdrawal on an artificial timetable that inherently jeopardizes our “very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.”
Why? Imagine the transformative effects in the region and indeed in the entire Muslim world, of achieving a secure and stable Iraq, friendly to the United States and victorious over al-Qaeda. Are the Democrats so intent on denying George Bush retroactive vindication for a war they insist is his that they would deny their own country a now-achievable victory?
© 2008, The Washington Post Writers Group