- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It is deeply unfortunate, but it is a fact that the debate over the success or failure of American policy in Iraq is generating more heat than light. Yet, at the same time, rarely has more information been available to policy-makers about our progress on the ground that could be the foundation of a genuine debate over the way forward and the possible outcomes for the most important foreign engagement of our time.

Even before the surge progress report was delivered this week, Democrats and other intemperate critics of the U.S. presence in Iraq launched a full-fledged assault on the credibility of Gen. David Petraeus, the very same man who was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate to lead U.S. troops in Iraq earlier this year. MoveOn.org, the organization that has practically become the Internet arm of the Democratic Party, ran a full-page ad in the New York Times under the headline, “General Petraeus or General Betrays Us? Cooking the books for the White House.” Other critics of the Bush administration on the Hill have not been quite as obnoxious, but still have not hidden their contempt for the facts on the ground that Gen. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker laid before them on Monday.

Progress in Iraq, however, is both quantifiable and verifiable, and the figures laid before Congress by the two men on Monday are important. “Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq,” Gen. Petraeus told members of Congress, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the number of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest level since 2006. The amount of weapons confiscated, including rockets, rifles and roadside bombs, is up by 60 percent over last year.

Those who want to call the surge a failure, even in the face of the evidence, have yet to answer the question whether they expect anything less than total chaos to ensue from a premature American withdrawal. Otherwise, they would have to explain how in all conscience they can contemplate a withdrawal, which would amount to throwing the Iraqis under a bus. Can any American politician who wants to be taken seriously really do that?

The fact that the Democrats have backed away from demanding a timeline for withdrawal indicates that they know the arguments are not on their side. Were we to start withdrawing now, the gains that have been made in curbing the insurgency would be lost.

As Mr. Crocker said, “I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure, and the consequences of such a failure must be clearly understood. An Iraq that falls into chaos or civil war will mean massive human suffering — well beyond what has already occurred within Iraq’s borders… The gains made against al Qaeda and other extremist groups could easily evaporate and they could establish strongholds to be used as safe havens for regional and international operations. The current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.”

The Petraeus-Crocker report echoes the report of the Government Accountability Office and that of Gen. James Jones delivered last week. All criticize the Maliki government for a lack of political progress and national reconciliation. It is irrefutable that stability in Iraq will never be achieved through a purely military solution. Yet, it is also true that national reconciliation is a tall order, something that many countries with a violent past struggle to achieve.

After 35 years of repression under Saddam Hussein, Iraqis simply cannot be expected to solve their political problems in one or two political seasons. Think of how long it took for the American political experiment to take root, and the number of dead in the American Civil War before Americans achieved the unity of one country.

Actually, the Iraqis are making modest progress in oil-revenue sharing, elections and de-Ba’athification. In addition, beyond Baghdad in Anbar province, the local tribal councils are working to root out the violent elements, a grass-roots approach to containing the insurgency that American commanders consider a way forward.

Gen. Petraeus stated that he would consider drawing down the U.S. surge. It is a question whether the presidential election cycle in this country will accommodate a gradual approach. There is no strategy like winning, which we look to be doing right now. Americans don’t so much have a problem with the war in Iraq as they have with losing it.

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