De­featism de­feated?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Thomas Sow­ell

If vic­tory in Iraq was over­sold at the out­set, there are now signs de­feat is like­wise be­ing over­sold to­day. One of the ear­li­est signs of this was that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid has said he could not wait for Lt. Gen. David Pe­traeus’ Septem­ber re­port on con­di­tions in Iraq but tried to get an im­me­di­ate con­gres­sional man­date to pull the troops out. Hav­ing waited for years, why could he not wait un­til Septem­ber for the re­port by the gen­eral who is on the ground in Iraq ev­ery day? Why was it nec­es­sary for politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton to de­clare the troop surge a fail­ure from 8,000 miles away?

The most ob­vi­ous an­swer is that Mr. Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, feared the surge would turn out not to be a fail­ure — and the Democrats had bet ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing their chances in the 2008 elec­tions, on an Amer­i­can de­feat in Iraq. Mr. Reid had to pre-empt de­feat be­fore Gen. Pe­traeus could re­port progress. The ma­jor­ity leader’s fail­ure to get the Se­nate to do that sug­gests not enough oth­ers were con­vinced declar­ing fail­ure now was the right po­lit­i­cal strat­egy. An op­ti­mist might even hope some of the sen­a­tors thought it wrong for the coun­try.

An­other re­veal­ing sign is that the solid front of the main­stream me­dia in fil­ter­ing out any pos­i­tive news from Iraq and fo­cus­ing only on Amer­i­can ca­su­al­ties — in the name of “honor­ing the troops” — is start­ing to show cracks.

One of the most re­veal­ing cracks has ap­peared in, of all places, the New York Times, which has through­out the war used its news col­umns as well as its edi­to­rial pages to un­der­mine the war in Iraq and paint the sit­u­a­tion as hope­less.

But an op-ed piece in the July 30 New York Times by two schol­ars at the lib­eral Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion — Michael E. O’Han­lon and Ken­neth M. Pol­lack — now paints a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture, based on their ac­tual in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the ground in Iraq af­ter the Amer­i­can troop surge un­der Gen. Pe­traeus.

It is not a rosy sce­nario by any means. There are few rosy sce­nar­ios in any war. But Messrs. O’Han­lon and Pol­lack re­port some se­ri­ous progress.

“To­day,” they re­port, “morale is high” among Amer­i­can troops and “civil­ian fa­tal­ity rates are down roughly a third since the surge be­gan.” In two cities they vis­ited in north­ern Iraq “Amer­i­can troop lev­els in both cities now num­ber only in the hun­dreds be­cause the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate” in pro­vid­ing their own se­cu­rity.

“To­day,” they say, “in only a few places did we find Amer­i­can com­man­ders com­plain­ing that their Iraqi for­ma­tions were use­less — some­thing that was the rule, not the ex­cep­tion, on a pre­vi­ous trip to Iraq in late 2005.” In the last six months, they re­port, “Iraqis have be­gun to turn on the ex­trem­ists.” In Ra­madi, where Amer­i­can Marines “were fight­ing for ev­ery yard” of ter­ri­tory just a few months ago, “last week we strolled down the streets with­out body ar­mor.”

Vic­tory is not in­evitable, any more than when Amer­i­can and Bri­tish troops landed at Nor­mandy in 1945. Gen. Dwight Eisen­hower even kept in his pocket a writ­ten state­ment tak­ing full re­spon­si­bil­ity in the event of fail­ure.

But vic­tory is not even de­fined the same way in Iraq as it was in World War II. Amer­i­can troops do not need to stay in Iraq un­til the last ves­tige of ter­ror­ism has been wiped out. The point when it is safe to be­gin pulling out is the point when the Iraqi mil­i­tary and po­lice forces are strong enough to con­tinue the fight against the ter­ror­ists on their own. That point de­pends on how much and how long the cur­rent progress con­tin­ues, not on how much the Democrats or their me­dia al­lies need an Amer­i­can de­feat be­fore the 2008 elec­tion.

Mr. O’Han­lon and Mr. Pol­lack warn that “the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq re­mains grave” but con­clude “there is enough good hap­pen­ing in Iraq that Congress should plan on sus­tain­ing the ef­fort at least into 2008.”

But 2008 may have an en­tirely dif­fer­ent sig­nif­i­cance for politi­cians than for th­ese Brook­ings schol­ars.

Thomas Sow­ell is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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