A glimmer of hope in Iraq, and at home
The cracks in Congress’ emerging Iraq withdrawal consensus are bound to show if people take the spate of recent positive developments on the ground in Iraq into serious consideration. There is substantial evidence that the surge is working, that terrorist “whack-a-mole” is not the inevitable state of affairs in Iraq, and hence that there is hope yet for a self-sustaining Iraq — as long as U.S. lawmakers do not cut off the war effort.
The most striking homefront bellwether last week came, of all places, from the New York Times Op-Ed page. The voices were the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, fresh from eight days in Iraq, and the message couldn’t be clearer. “Congress should plan on sustaining the war effort at least into 2008,” say Messrs. O’Hanlon and Pollack, no Bush insiders. Both have been quite critical of the administration’s handling of the war, which they call “miserable.” Both now see progress after being “surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.” We’ll see whether the assessment of two honest liberals which runs counter to the withdrawal drumbeat can manage to turn any antiwar heads.
Anbar province is nearly completely transformed from an infamous terrorist stronghold to Iraq’s leading safe zone besides the Kurdish north. Ramadi has underdone a sim- ilarly remarkable transformation; the authors “strolled down its streets without body armor,” which would stun those who visited in 2006. Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood is recovering. Tal Afar and Mosul, two sites of major battles and terrorist activity, are now very much in the hands of Iraqi forces with American troop levels now reduced to the hundreds. The morale of U.S. troops is high, as is confidence in Gen. David Petraeus.
“Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,” write Messrs. O’Hanlon and Pollack.
We would also mention Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’ contention that a safe withdrawal from Iraq “will be impossible if the necessary bargaining takes place against a backdrop of continual congressional demands for a faster withdrawal.” In sum, “[I]t matters powerfully how we disengage.”
As a moment in the politics of this Iraq debate, it would be beyond tragic if Congress were to cut off the war effort at the very moment that significant progress had finally gotten underway. We are at a moment when freshman Rep. Nancy Boyda, Kansas Democrat, feels justified walking out on retired Army Gen. Jack Keane at a hearing because she cannot stomach the general’s positive assessment of developments in Iraq. Let us hope we will soon arrive at a moment when Mrs. Boyda can be regarded as histrionic and no more.