Politics & Policy

Democratic Fantasyland

What was it that Hillary Clinton once said about the willing suspension of disbelief? For congressional Democrats, that line has gone from a put-down (of Gen. David Petraeus’s testimony before Congress) to a way of life. On Iraq, Democrats now live in a fantasy world. That’s why they can ignore the surge’s success and — after all we’ve learned over the last year — persist in trying to condition funding of the Iraq war on a drawdown of troops by the end of 2008.

In the Democrats’ version of events, mortar and rocket attacks are not at their lowest level in nearly two years, and half the level of October 2006; car bombs and roadside bombs in Baghdad are not down more than 70 percent from before the surge; civilians deaths didn’t fall below 900 in October, down from nearly 2,000 in January; enemy attacks haven’t dropped for four straight months; the number of Coalition troops killed in action hasn’t fallen over the same months, to the lowest level since February 2004. The Democrats’ Iraq War is perpetually set to December 2006, when we were manifestly failing and the Baker-Hamilton commission delivered its “consensus” recommendation that combat troops be pulled out by March 2008.

If we weren’t already so close to March 2008, Democrats would still be insisting on that deadline. Now they say they want out by December 15, 2008. (December 14, apparently, would be premature; December 16 too dilatory.) The Baker-Hamilton report was dubious when released, but now its recommendations look patently foolish. Only the application of American combat power in classic counterinsurgency tactics — the very opposite of the thrust of Baker-Hamilton — has brought the recent progress in Iraq.

Some opponents of the war have given up on trying to disprove that there has been progress on the security front. Instead they say the progress was inevitable: The war has burned itself out; everyone is dead (Rep. David Obey’s explanation); the Sunnis would have turned against al-Qaeda anyway; etc., etc. This from the same people who said Iraq was absolutely hopeless earlier this year.

It’s true that the picture Iraq is complicated and resists easy simplifications, but there is no way we would have seen such progress without the surge. It was the surge that enabled the Sunnis to turn against al-Qaeda across the country; it was the surge that took back cities such as Baquba from the extremists; it was the surge that rooted out al-Qaeda from staging areas around Baghdad; it was the surge that interposed our troops between warring factions in Baghdad and tamped down the civil war; it was the surge that made the population feel secure enough to begin giving us more tips about IEDs and weapon caches.

This has been our troops’ bloodiest year in Iraq. They have bought the remarkable improvements of the last several months with life and limb. To deny their sacrifice and their achievement — to ignore it because it doesn’t fit a partisan narrative — is shameful.

This is not to deny that Iraq is still in a parlous state. Violence remains too high, and the gains we have made could be reversed unless the central government integrates Sunni security volunteers into the official police force, among other things. Given all the disasters that have befallen Iraq since the invasion, supporters of the war should be wary of allowing the surge’s success induce triumphalism. And the public is understandably skeptical of good news from Iraq when conservatives have hailed so many false dawns. But holding the security gains we have made is the precondition of achieving a reasonable result in Iraq, and it won’t happen without a substantial American troop presence. The additional troops from the surge will begin coming home soon, but it is probably prudent to stay at pre-surge levels through 2008.

Republicans have by now gotten used to defeating Democratic attempts to enforce a withdrawal from Iraq. They should brush this one away too. As the political tide in Congress has ebbed away from the hard antiwar Democrats over the last year, their Iraq proposals have gone from dangerous, to contemptible, to — now — simply pathetic.

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