Kathryn Lopez

Supposed leaders -- such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- declare that the war is lost. Thus, we have a video from Al Qaeda's No. 2 nut, Ayman al-Zawahiri, rejoicing. We've got them now, al-Zawahiri figures. And I'd think the same if I were a jihadist.

Maybe we can chalk this Democratic rhetoric up to the partisan ways of Beltway. But what happens in the Beltway doesn't stay there. And when we're dealing with war, irresponsible rhetoric isn't chiefly a breach of domestic politeness -- it's a slap in the face to our troops abroad and a morale boost for their foes on the battlefield.

The war critics' attitude has been all wrong since the so-called surge began.

The critics on left and right alike have refused to give the surge a chance, including prominent Democrats who initially supported the war and a Democratic Senate that unanimously approved Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to go to Iraq, declaring his efforts a failure while he was just getting started. True leaders might have considered -- instead of shooting their military in the collective foot and giving moral support to the enemy -- taking a deep breath and realizing that the brave sacrifices of Americans, Iraqis and our allies have earned Petraeus and his forces a chance to succeed.

The last few weeks didn't have to be like this and the summer months don't need to follow the same pattern, building toward another showdown between Congress and the president in September. If the leaders on the Democratic side had been adult about it -- instead of throwing tantrums, cheered on by the antiwar left-wing Internet -- they could have might have tried something like this: "Mr. President, we don't like what we're seeing in Iraq, and neither do the American. We know you can't either, but we owe it to those who have already sacrificed to give Petraeus our confidence."

And he has it. But we also can't stay in Iraq indefinitely and we can't continue to lose American lives. Knowing that our enemy will only be re-energized by an immediate exit, we must send a united signal to our friends in Iraq that although we want to help to make their new country work, we are not colonial rulers and we cannot be there forever.

Let's set some benchmarks -- help them in the chaos of their new government to set some goals. We're their friend and mentor but not their nation builder, which we think you agree with us on. Mr. President, we live in dangerous times. Mistakes have been made but -- unified and responsible -- we can avoid making fatal ones now.

The war in Iraq has not been a grand success, to say the least. We can all agree on that. Americans don't like to lose. We can agree on that, too. Now let's go from there and try to come to a reasonable compromise that won't leave the legacy of our fallen and the Iraqi people high and dry. Had Democratic leaders in Congress taken that approach, they would have proven themselves statesmen. Instead, I fear, the majority party in Congress may be leading us to greater dangers we could have avoided.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.