Cliff May

The news is not that American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities. The news is that American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities in victory -- rather than in defeat.

Two years ago at this time, few in the foreign policy establishment considered that outcome possible. Some did not even see it as desirable. There were those who believed the conflict in Iraq was "unwinnable," that America had met its match on the hot and dusty streets of 21st century Mesopotamia. Others thought Americans needed a Vietnam-like refresher course about the futility of the use of U.S. military force anywhere in the world.

The Baker/Hamilton Commission deliberated long and hard and then cobbled together an "exit strategy" that was intended to make defeat more graceful while spreading the blame on a bipartisan basis. (Full disclosure: I was one of Baker/Hamilton's "expert advisors" but I was among a tiny minority of vocal dissenters.)

Two years ago at this time, MoveOn.org and associated groups mobilized for what they called the "Iraq Summer," an elaborate campaign to put pressure on members of Congress to cut off funding for the mission in Iraq. They made little progress despite numerous congressional votes.

Toward the end of the summer, in frustration I suspect, MoveOn took a full page ad in The New York Times calling Gen. David Petraeus: "Gen. Betray-Us." The charge of treachery was based on his implementation of the "surge," a strategy dramatically different from that implemented when U.S. troops first went into Iraq, a strategy based on counterinsurgency - i.e. live among the local population and protect them -- rather than counterterrorism - i.e. hunker down in "Forward Operating Bases" and occasionally venture out in search of insurgents to kill. I think it's safe to say that MoveOn's scurrilous attack on a U.S. combat commander did not make most Americans feel warm and fuzzy about the group, its allies and its financial supporters.

Taking them on, quietly but with enormous determination, was an informal coalition of veterans and military family groups, pro-defense and conservative think tanks, advocacy organizations and on-line news services. They worked hard to (1) inform the public about the progress in Iraq, and (2) persuade lawmakers not to surrender in Washington so long as American troops had a chance to prevail against the militant Islamists in Iraq. (More full disclosure: I participated in that effort.)


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.