Fouad Ajami, just returned from his seventh trip to Iraq, is similarly guardedly optimistic and explains the change this way: Fundamentally, the Sunnis have lost the battle of Baghdad. They initiated it with their indiscriminate terror campaign that they assumed would cow the Shiites, whom they view with contempt as congenitally quiescent, lower-class former subjects. They learned otherwise after the Samarra bombing (February 2006) kindled Shiite fury -- a savage militia campaign of kidnapping, indiscriminate murder and ethnic cleansing that has made Baghdad a largely Shiite city.
Petraeus is trying now to complete the defeat of the Sunni insurgents in Baghdad -- without the barbarism of the Shiite militias, whom his forces are simultaneously pursuing and suppressing.
How at this point -- with only about half of the additional surge troops yet deployed -- can Democrats be trying to force the U.S. to give up? The Democrats say they are carrying out their electoral mandate from the November election. But winning a single-vote Senate majority as a result of razor-thin victories in Montana and Virginia is hardly a landslide.
Second, if the electorate was sending an unconflicted message about withdrawal, how did the most uncompromising supporter of the war, Sen. Joe Lieberman, win handily in one of the most liberal states in the country?
And third, where was the mandate for withdrawal? Almost no Democratic candidates campaigned on that. They campaigned for changing the course the administration was on last November.
Which the president has done. He changed the civilian leadership at the Department of Defense, replaced the head of Central Command and, most critically, replaced the Iraq commander with Petraeus -- unanimously approved by the Democratic Senate -- to implement a new counterinsurgency strategy.
John McCain has had no illusions about the difficulty of this war. Nor does he now. In his bold and courageous speech at the Virginia Military Institute defending the war effort, he described the improvements on the ground while acknowledging the enormous difficulties ahead. Insisting that success in Iraq is both possible and necessary, McCain made clear that he is willing to stake his presidential ambitions, indeed his entire political career, on a war policy that is unpopular but that he believes must be pursued for the sake of the country. How many other presidential candidates -- beginning with, say, Hillary Clinton -- do you think are acting in the same spirit?
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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