It’s not easy to pimp surrender, but some of our congressional and media worthies are giving it their best shot.
It won’t be easy. Nobody but the loons think quitters, fakers, surrender monkeys and pessimists of various stripes are good custodians of the national interests, and the men and women who read the newspapers and magazines and watch the television newscasts are smarter than the men and women who write and preen for them. Americans are fed up with the Iraq war not because they think resisting jihad is wrong, but because they think the leaders at the top may not necessarily be serious about winning without apology. Anthony McAuliffe, who answered the German demand for surrender at Bastogne with “nuts” (if not something a little saltier), is the kind of general Americans admire most.
The risks for Democratic doom-criers are becoming evident. The accumulating evidence of progress, little by little, is changing public opinion. Media opinion will follow, slowly as always, and the sluggard notabilities of press and screen will be tugged — “kicking and screaming,” as the liberals once said of conservatives — into reality. The Democrats in Congress, like the embittered losers on the left, will be left behind on the other side of the famous bridge to the 21st century.
Cautious optimism is reflected in curious places. “The new U.S. military strategy in Iraq, unveiled six months ago to little acclaim, is working,” the Associated Press — no particular friend of George W. Bush — reports. The usual caveats follow: “It’s a phase with fresh promise yet the same old worry: Iraq may be too fractured to make whole.” And this: the U.S. military “cannot guarantee victory.” And this: “… it is far from certain that [the Iraqis] are capable of putting this shattered country together again.” American commanders are “clinging to a hope.” And “there is no magic formula for success.” Duh.
Nevertheless and grudging or not, things are reported to be better than they used to be, and seem to be getting a little better every day. It’s enough to make a partisan Democrat weep. Some are. Nancy Boyda of Kansas, a freshman in the House, was so unnerved by good news from the front that she stalked out of a committee hearing when a retired general described developments in Iraq as encouraging. Good news like that, she said, only “further divides the country.” Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the Democratic majority House whip, was even more revealing: If things improve in Iraq, that would be “a real problem for us.”
Fear began to creep into the Democratic consciousness a fortnight or so ago, replacing the happy confidence that America was taking the licking that would doom Republicans next year. Michael Barone recalls an earlier example of a wartime opposition showing a white feather. The House of Commons debated a resolution of “no confidence” in Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the early summer of 1942. But the left-wing Labor members then were angry and upset because the side was losing; the Democrats of 2007 are upset because their side might be winning.
A loyal opposition could persuasively argue that the president erred in trying to do too much with too little, forgetting, as generals and presidents often do, that wars can’t be fought on the cheap with airplanes and diplomats. Even with the “surge” there aren’t enough troops in Iraq to do all the hard jobs necessary to winning “sustainability” if not “victory.”
Now the Democratic fear is that the upbeat Associated Press survey, which follows the unexpected good news in the report of Brookings Institution analysts Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollock, is a precursor to the report from Iraq by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. That’s due next month and it may not be the gift of Democratic dreams.
Positive news from Gen. Petraeus would be devastating to the president’s embittered critics because it would feed aborning public-opinion momentum. A new Gallup Poll, taken for USA Today and reported in full yesterday morning, finds that the number of Americans who think the war news is getting better is up sharply, from 22 percent a month ago to 31 percent now. The pessimists who think the surge is “not making much difference” has dropped from 51 percent to 41 percent. Americans are natural-born optimists, eager for good news. The Democrats, clever as they imagine they are, can’t do anything about that.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.