After three days of testimony from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, antiwar Democrats on the Hill are in a state of disarray. Meanwhile, pivotal senators like Republican John Warner of Virginia have disappointed Democrats by refusing to swing fully away from the war effort by favoring Democratic withdrawal bills. President Bush seems to have secured another half year, at minimum, to head off the Iraqi disintegration which, for reasons we cannot fathom, the Washington Iraq-withdrawal caucus still fervently desires.
The general’s testimony rang with integrity and honesty; he was not flashy, but modest and forthright. As Mr. Crocker put it, there are “no magic switches to flip in Iraq.” We would particularly like to highlight Gen. Petraeus’ refusal to assert that the surge in Iraq has “made the United States safer.” Lesser men might have asserted that it has, even though this is at root unprovable, in knowledge that they could do so with impunity. Gen. Petraeus did not because his testimony has stuck to facts. That he sails through these hearings despite the evident Democratic animus suggests, perhaps, that integrity still means something in this town.
This moment has been made possible by earlier groundwork. In the realm of printed ideas, it began with the brave Op-Ed by Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack in the New York Times acknowledging that some good has come of the surge. Politically, it has been sustained in no small part by Mr. Warner’s refusal to play fully to the antiwar tune. This occurred when, despite his several calls on Mr. Bush to begin withdrawal from Iraq, he refused to support a congressionally initiated withdrawal. This news has been largely overlooked. It is among the week’s most significant.
The Democratic reaction to Gen. Petraeus, by and large the same old sound and fury, was sufficiently repetitive and devoid of insight to suggest that the antiwar forces too acknowledge that they have failed to demonstrate the need to push the Iraq effort over the abyss at a moment when the surge has yielded at least a small amount of progress. We’d like to highlight the singularly rank partisanship of Senate Democrats who repeatedly accused Gen. Petraeus of mendacity, refusing to admit that any Iraq news not wholly negative could possibly be true. Here’s Sen. Hillary Clinton’s coy manner of calling the general a liar. His testimony “requires the willing suspension of disbelief.” That follows her own admission, subsequently smothered in leftward lurches, that some good has resulted from the surge.
Yesterday brought would-be fulminator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, railing against the general’s promised reduction of 30,000 troops by next summer: It is “unacceptable to me, it’s unacceptable to the American people,” he said. But here, “unacceptable” apparently means that Mr. Reid plans to go along. His solution is to blame the ordeal on Senate Republicans. “I call on the Senate Republicans to not walk lockstep as they have with the president for years in this war,” he said. “It’s time to change. It’s the president’s war. At this point it also appears clear it’s also the Senate Republicans’ war.” The grain of truth from Mr. Reid here is that Senate Republicans are indeed emboldened right now. Mr. Warner, whose total defection to the antiwar caucus might well have doomed the war effort, has not happened.
This episode has secured time for the war effort in the march to withdrawal which has overtaken Washington. The bluff of Democrats’ antiwar rhetoric is now called. The war is still to be fought.