Iraq's most recent elections were a sight for sore eyes. Independent observers agree they were free, fair and valid. Iraqis voted less for sectarian parties and more for individual candidates. Extremists did not fare well. Sunnis, Shias and Kurds all participated in large numbers. Iraq is today - and at least for now -- more free and democratic than almost any of its Middle Eastern neighbors. Those who think Arabs incapable of decent governance may yet be proven wrong. Those convinced that pluralism is impossible to sustain in a Muslim majority country also may turn out to have been mistaken.
All that is encouraging for people like me who believe freedom must either advance or retreat, and that Americans have a vital interest in which way the global tide turns. But even more important is the fact that Iraq's third national elections since 2005 were an unmitigated disaster for both al-Qaeda and Iran's proxies in Iraq. Their forces have been decimated - the U.S. military under the leadership of Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno saw to that. They were not able to either influence or intimidate large numbers of voters. Nor did they manage to stage terrorist attacks to disrupt the voting. (Four years ago, by contrast, there were nearly 300 such terrorist attacks.)
When America's sworn enemies are frustrated in their ambitions anywhere else in the world, it counts as a battle won.
That doesn't guarantee victory in the larger conflict against militant Islamists. It does, however, allow America's military to wind down in Iraq more quickly than would be the case had conditions on the ground not improved.
Iraqis are increasingly taking responsibility for their own security, with American troops providing strategic and logistics support, as well as advanced training. According to current plans and agreements, America's combat forces will be out of Iraq's cities by this summer and out of the country by 2011. My guess is that President Obama will stand up to those on the Left who are pressuring him to withdraw more precipitously. Yes, he promised to get out of Iraq within 16 months of entering the Oval Office. But he also promised a "responsible and phased" withdrawal. The two promises were never compatible as anyone with any sense of the situation understood.
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