Denver — Yesterday, I once again watched Speaker Nancy Pelosi stubbornly deny the success of the surge. Under questioning from Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press, Pelosi insisted that — despite dramatic improvements on the ground — the surge has not been successful because “the Iraqi government has not stepped up to the plate. . . . ” Her opposition, in the interview and elsewhere, is built on naming three pieces of stalled Iraqi legislation. (Hmm, can you name three pieces of stalled U.S. legislation?)
This remains the only anti-surge talking point on the Left. One problem, though: it’s no longer true — especially in light of the Iraqi government’s “surge” to autonomy, which is emblematic of their newfound political aptitude. The Maliki government has passed 15 of the 18 political benchmarks our Congress laid before it, not to mention taking on rogue Shia militias throughout the country and bringing the largest Sunni political party back into the fold. It’s not a beacon of democracy yet, but it is Iraq-ocracy.
In light of this indisputable political progress and the dramatic drop in violence in Iraq — which Brokaw referenced — Pelosi’s position is a radical one. Unfortunately, we’ve come to expect such political talking points from Ms. Pelosi — nothing short of a Planned Parenthood in every Iraqi village would denote success for her. But what of the man who has pledged to usher in a new kind of politics?
Senator Barack Obama has done his best to make it appear as if he has embraced the surge, noting in his VFW speech last week, that “gains have been made in lowering the level of violence” (note that passive construction) and that Iraq’s Security Forces have “increase[ed] capacity.” Such factual acknowledgements are welcome. Yet when actually pressed on the subject he continues to insist — as does Pelosi — that the surge has not worked. He is effectively embracing the surge without embracing it at all.
Obama has gone so far as to insist — when pressed by Katie Couric last month — that if given the opportunity to support or oppose the surge again, he would still oppose it. So, on one hand, Obama recognizes success in Iraq. But on the other hand, he still opposes the American policy that fostered that success. In Obama’s mind, this is not a contradiction.
The reason why is that Obama won’t admit that the gains we’ve seen in Iraq are at all related to the surge. He knows things have improved in Iraq — even on the political front — but credits everything but the surge strategy and U.S. troops for those improvements. Sure, he’ll say on the stump that “our troops have accomplished every mission” and “they have performed brilliantly.” But in the very next breath, he’ll deny that they were responsible for the success (remember: “gains have been made”). It seems as if nothing good can possibly have come from U.S. military policy in Iraq simply because it went ahead without Obama’s blessing.
In January of this year, Obama said that security gains were achieved because — get this — Sunni tribes in Anbar were scared that “Democrats elected [to Congress] in 2006” would hasten withdrawal. He has never retracted this unsubstantiated claim. More recently, Obama and his apologist, Madame Speaker, credit improvements in Iraq almost exclusively to the ceasefire of Muqtada al Sadr’s militia and the Sunni awakening (again, supposedly induced by the Democrats). Pelosi has even cited the “goodwill of the Iranians” as a factor; ignoring U.S. intelligence that shows Iranian arms and expertise are killing our troops.
I gladly acknowledge that other factors (well, aside from the ludicrous proposition on Iranian goodwill) have been integral to progress in Iraq. But intellectual integrity should compel Democratic leaders to admit that, at the very least, the surge has been a significant factor in the gains. Why not, if only for the sake of the troops (who, by the way, comprise “the surge”), admit that it worked?
Because detaching the surge — and the troops — from the progress in Iraq is a political necessity for Obama; admitting even the qualified success of the surge would require admitting his failure in judgment. Obama’s entire campaign was born in the notion that he exercised superior judgment on Iraq. Abandoning that proposition now would risk alienating his antiwar base.
And who gets the shaft in this equation? The soldiers and Marines who made the surge happen, that’s who. They get no credit from Obama and other leading Dems, whose mantra remains “we support the troops, but not the war.” They support the troops . . . but not so far as to upset Pelosi and Obama’s public narrative on Iraq. In order to discredit the surge strategy, its architects, and its principal political champion — John McCain — they are even willing to credit progress in Iraq to Muqtada al Sadr and Iran.
At the convention today, I suspect, we’ll see and hear only a few platitudes about success in Iraq — our “troops are wonderful, but the policy failed” they’ll say; but bend your ear and see if you hear anything positive about the surge. You won’t.
It needn’t be that way, and for the sake of our country’s future — in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the broader war on terror — Obama and Co. should re-examine what it means to be for our troops in the abstract but against their present mission. If not, the American people just might do it for them.
— Captain Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006, is chairman of Vets for Freedom.