When Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution wrote in yesterday’s New York Times that Congress should give General David Petraeus more time in Iraq to expand on the progress he has already made since the beginning of the surge, critics reacted by painting them as stooges of the Bush administration. What will they do when Democratic Representatives Keith Ellison and Jerry McInerney talk about the progress Petraeus is making? McInerney even spoke of adjusting his demand for a withdrawal deadline:
Ellison said that local leaders in Ramadi told him of how they partnered with U.S. and Iraqi military officials to virtually rid al-Qaeda from the city. Although the lawmakers had to travel in flak vests and helmets, “we did see people walking around the streets of Ramadi, going back and forth to the market.”
There have been fewer anti-U.S. sermons as the violence has been reduced, Ellison said, and religious leaders meet regularly with U.S. military officials.
“The success in Ramadi is not just because of bombs and bullets, but because the U.S. and Iraqi military and the Iraqi police are partnering with the tribal leadership and the religious leadership,” he said. “So they’re not trying to just bomb people into submission. What they’re doing is respecting the people, giving the people some control over their own lives.” …
McNerney, the California congressman, also said he saw signs of progress in Ramadi and was impressed by Petraeus, who argued in favor of giving President Bush’s troop surge strategy time to work.
McNerney said he still favors a timeline to get troops out of Iraq — something House leaders may bring to the floor again this week as part of a defense spending bill — but is open to crafting it in a way more favorable to generals’ wishes.
This demonstrates the dilemma for Democrats as the surge presses forward over the next few months. Even war critics now acknowledge that progress has been made by Petraeus and that the new war strategy has created hope for Iraqis — and that the alternative will be a catastrophe. Ellison spoke about how he “cared” for the Iraqis as well as the troops, and having said that, he will find it hard to care for them by watching them disappear in the rear-view mirror.
The return of normality for the Iraqis that he met in Ramadi came through the offices of the American military, and a precipitate withdrawal would end it, probably immediately. The reduction of anti-American rhetoric from the mosques comes not because we left those parts of Iraq, but because we stayed and drove out the terrorists. The nation-building of our alliances with tribal leaders, and our adherence to their customs, comes from having made mistakes and learned tough lessons in the first years of the war — and applying those lessons properly and to good effect now.
Democrats seemed in a big hurry to pass retreat demands ahead of the September reporting deadline, and now we can see why. As Petraeus makes more progress and pacifies more of the nation, the Democrats will see themselves marginalized by all the shrieking that took place before. By the end of September, Petraeus will have extensive improvements to report, and the national attention on his successes will paint the Democrats as a party of surrender in a region we cannot afford to lose.