Donald Lambro

But even if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her anti-war aide-de-camp John Murtha were able to come up with 218 votes, it's doubtful the bill would have any chance of passing the Senate, where Democrats have been unable to move any pullout legislation.

Last week, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid couldn't even cobble together a simple majority for a bill that would set a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal that faced a certain veto from Bush.

All of this is taking place against some early, anecdotal signs that troop reinforcements are having an impact at reducing the violence in Baghdad. And this is happening with only the first installment of the additional 21,000-plus combat forces that will be in the Iraqi capital by June.

U.S. officials in both parties sent over by the administration to assess the war have been returning home with a more positive outlook for Bush's new strategy there. "I got a sense in Baghdad in particular that with the additional checkpoints ... they're already seeing a difference on the ground," said Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona.

The decision by Shiite death squads to halt their role in the sectarian violence, at least for the time being, has also contributed in large part to the reduction in violence there.

The increasing role of the expanded Iraqi military in the house-to-house searches are also welcome dividends from the past three years of training that has been accelerated under the new plan. They are going to become a much more lethal force in the months to come, in part due to $3 billion in additional weapons we will be selling them.

The commonly voiced complaint by an assortment of pundits and armchair generals here is that "there are few options left in Iraq." But I'm not sure that is entirely true.

If the situation on the ground can be improved in the neighborhoods and streets of Baghdad, the Iraqi government will get the political breathing room it needs to build security forces and a governing infrastructure.

The stronger the Iraqi government becomes, the less chance insurgents have of making any significant long-term gains to bring down the country's democratic movement.

Meanwhile, the dispirited Democratic leadership in Congress is betting that the Iraqis will eventually lose their fight to be free. I'm betting that with our support, they can win.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.



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