Democrats are taking ownership of a defeat in Iraq.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
We're going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Senator Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding.
--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, April 12.
Gen. David Petraeus is in Washington this week, where on Monday he briefed President Bush on the progress of the new military strategy in Iraq. Today he will give similar briefings on Capitol Hill, but maybe he should save his breath. As fellow four-star Harry Reid recently informed America, the war Gen. Petraeus is fighting and trying to win is already "lost."
Mr. Reid has since tried to "clarify" that remark, and in a speech Monday he laid out his own strategy for Iraq. But perhaps we ought to be grateful for his earlier candor in laying out the strategic judgment--and nakedly political rationale--that underlies the latest Congressional bid to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq starting this fall. By doing so, he and the Democrats are taking ownership of whatever ugly outcome follows a U.S. defeat in Iraq.
This isn't to say that the Administration hasn't made its share of major blunders in this war. But at least Mr. Bush and his commanders are now trying to make up for these mistakes with a strategy to put Prime Minister Maliki's government on a stronger footing, secure Baghdad and the Sunni provinces against al Qaeda and allow for an eventual, honorable, U.S. withdrawal. That's more than can be said for Mr. Reid and the Democratic left, who are making the job for our troops more difficult by undermining U.S. morale and Iraqi confidence in American support.
In his speech Monday, Mr. Reid claimed that "nothing has changed" since the surge began taking effect in February. It's true that the car bombings and U.S. casualties continue, and may increase. But such an enemy counterattack was to be expected, aimed as it is directly at the Democrats in Washington. The real test of the surge is whether it can secure enough of the population to win their cooperation and gradually create fewer safe havens for the terrorists.
So far, the surge is meeting that test, even before the additional troops Mr. Bush ordered have been fully deployed. Between February and March sectarian violence declined by 26%, according to Gen. William Caldwell. Security in Baghdad has improved sufficiently to allow the government to shorten its nightly curfew. Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been politically marginalized, which explains his apparent departure from Iraq and the resignation of his minions from Mr. Maliki's parliamentary coalition--a sign that moderate Shiites are gaining strength at his expense.
More significantly, most Sunni tribal sheikhs are now turning against al Qaeda and cooperating with coalition and Iraqi forces. What has turned these sheikhs isn't some grand "political solution," which Mr. Reid claims is essential for Iraq's salvation. They've turned because they have tired of being fodder for al Qaeda's strategy of fomenting a civil war with a goal of creating a Taliban regime in Baghdad, or at least in Anbar province. The sheikhs realize that they will probably lose such a civil war now that the Shiites are as well-armed as the insurgents and prepared to be just as ruthless. Their best chance for survival now lies with a democratic government in Baghdad. The political solution becomes easier the stronger Mr. Maliki and Iraqi government forces are, and strengthening both is a major goal of the surge.
By contrast, Mr. Reid's strategy of withdrawal will only serve to enlarge the security vacuum in which Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents have thrived. That's also true of what an American withdrawal will mean for the broader Middle East. Mr. Reid says that by withdrawing from Iraq we will be better able to take on al Qaeda and a nuclear Iran. But the reality (to use Mr. Reid's new favorite word) is that we are fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and if we lose there we will only make it harder to prevail in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Countries do not usually win wars by losing their biggest battles.
As for Iran, Mr. Reid's strategy of defeat would guarantee that the radical mullahs of Tehran have more influence in Baghdad than the moderate Shiites of Najaf. It would also make the mullahs even more confident that they can build a bomb with impunity and no fear of any Western response.
The stakes in Iraq are about the future of the entire Middle East--and of our inevitable involvement in it. In calling for withdrawal, Mr. Reid and his allies, just as with Vietnam, may think they are merely following polls that show the public is unhappy with the war. Yet Americans will come to dislike a humiliation and its aftermath even more, especially as they realize that a withdrawal from Iraq now will only make it harder to stabilize the region and defeat Islamist radicals. And they will like it even less should we be required to re-enter the country someday under far worse circumstances.
This is the outcome toward which the "lost" Democrats and Harry Reid are heading, and for which they will be responsible if it occurs. The alternative is to fight for a stable Iraqi government that can control the country and keep it together in a federal, democratic system. As long as such an outcome is within reach, it is our responsibility to achieve it.