Since the Democrats took control of Congress in November of last year, the Bush administration has taken a beating on Iraq. But while the Democrats have been talking of failure and defeat, the facts on the ground have, over the course of the past twelve months, taken a decisive turn for the better. It is now time for the Bush administration, as well as Republicans in the House and Senate, to go on the offensive.
There is no doubt anymore that the surge has been a success. Civilian deaths are down throughout Iraq and Baghdad, in particular, has seen a return to normalcy. A recent article in the New York Times described how restaurants are again filling with customers, weddings are taking place, and people are enjoying picnics in Baghdad’s Zawra Park. Attacks on U.S. troops have declined significantly and Iraq’s Sunnis are increasingly choosing to cooperate with the Iraqi government instead of the terrorists.
Let us recall for a moment what the Democrats said when President Bush announced the surge in January of this year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to President Bush in which they argued that a surge would be “a serious mistake.” Reid and Pelosi concluded by saying they “do not believe that adding more U.S. combat troops contributes to success.” Other Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill made similar statements. Senator Joe Biden, for example, called the surge “a tragic mistake” and Senator Barack Obama said that the troop surge “makes absolutely no sense.”
The Democrats, as it turns out, were horribly wrong. Had President Bush listened to them and authorized the phased pull-out of U.S. troops that the Democrats so vigorously advocated, the security situation in Iraq would almost surely have continued to decline. Fortunately, the President made a difficult but principled decision to authorize the surge, a decision which has turned out to be the right one.
President Bush and other Republican leaders must seize this moment to take control of the Iraq debate and regain the confidence of the American people. The first step is to do a better job touting the progress that has been achieved on the ground. This means holding a joint press conference in Baghdad with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus to highlight specific achievements; dispatching senior members of President Bush’s national security team to the Sunday talk-shows; and inviting journalists to Baghdad so they can see the progress firsthand.
The second step is to make clear to the American people that these gains were achieved in spite of the Democratic leadership, not because of it. Democrats may try to argue that the situation in Iraq has improved because of the increased pressure they have applied since taking control of Congress, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Democrats have been wrapped up in what Senator Joe Lieberman calls “a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq” and have done nothing but set up roadblocks to success every step of the way — introducing legislation that would dictate the pace of troop rotations and trying to insert language into appropriations bills that would force a troop pull-out. In order to implement the successful strategy in Iraq, Republicans have had to fight back these and other attempts to interfere with commander-in-chief authorities.
Republicans must be mindful of the fact that the Democrats will try to shift the parameters of the debate by focusing on the perceived lack of political progress in Iraq, but here, too, Republicans must aggressively fight back. It is true that the Iraqi government has not managed to pass necessary legislation on oil revenues and de-Baathification, but consider for a moment the whole range of possible alternatives to the political developments in Iraq over the past few years. The Iraqi people might have elected a government that was Islamist and anti-American, one that would have instantly called for the departure of all U.S. troops from Iraq. Or the Iraqi government might have crumbled during the many months of violence in 2005 and 2006. Instead, successful elections resulted in a government that has been responsible, stable, and as eager to fight terrorists as we are. On a fundamental level, these political accomplishments have been nothing short of astonishing.
Some Republicans may be scared to go on the offense because they believe that in the past, they made the mistake of celebrating successes in Iraq that turned out to be ephemeral. This analysis is not quite correct. The previous Baghdad security plan, for example, was touted before it had achieved any results. This time, the surge has already yielded results that are real and demonstrable. Republicans need to capitalize on these results if they want to restore the American people’s faith in this war and the Bush Administration’s handling of it.
– Alexander Benard is a third-year student at Stanford Law School. He is a 2007 Claremont Institute Publius Fellow and a 2006 Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom Law Fellow. He has interned at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Department of Defense Office of General Counsel.