WASHINGTON -- After months of surreality, the Iraq debate has quite abruptly acquired a relationship to reality. Following the Democratic victory last November, panicked Republican senators began rifling the thesaurus to find exactly the right phrase to express exactly the right nuance to establish exactly the right distance from the president's Iraq policy, while Murtha Democrats searched for exactly the right legislative ruse to force a retreat from Iraq without appearing to do so.
In the last month, however, as a consensus has emerged about realities on the ground in Iraq, a reasoned debate has begun. A number of fair-minded observers, both critics and supporters of the war, agree that the surge has yielded considerable military progress, while at the national political level the Maliki government remains a disaster.
The latest report from the battlefield is from Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a strong Iraq War critic. He returned saying essentially what we have heard from Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution and various liberal congressmen, the latest being Brian Baird, D-Wash.: Al-Qaeda has been seriously set back as Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar, Diyala and other provinces switched from the insurgency to our side.
As critics acknowledge military improvement, the administration is finally beginning to concede the political reality that the Maliki government is hopeless. Bush's own national security adviser had said as much in a leaked memo back in November. I and others have been arguing that for months. And when Levin returned and openly called for the Iraqi Parliament to vote out the Maliki government, the president pointedly refused to contradict him.
This convergence about the actual situation in Baghdad will take some of the drama out the highly anticipated Petraeus moment next month. We know what the general and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are going to say when they testify before Congress because multiple sources have already told us what is happening on the ground.
There will, of course, be the Harry Reids and those on the far left who will deny inconvenient reality. Reid will continue to call the surge a failure, as he has since even before it began. And the left will continue to portray Gen. David Petraeus as an unscrupulous commander quite prepared to send his troops into a hopeless battle in order to advance his political ambitions (although exactly how that works is not clear).
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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