Paul Greenberg

The terrorists and their sympathizers in Iraq keep saying American resolve is fading - and that American troops will soon fade away with it. But a headline last week told a different story: "U.S. general says Iraq needs buildup into '08."

What's this - are the Americans still determined to win in Iraq? How unsettling that possibility must be for Sunni insurgents, Shi'ite zealots, al-Qaida killers and any armed Baathists still lurking about.

This can't be what they'd expected. At this point in a long cruel war, the Americans were supposed to be packing up and pulling out. Instead they're being reinforced.

Our enemies weren't counting on American resilience. Of course not. They don't believe in it. Indeed, they've made its absence an article of faith.

The supposed weakness of the decadent West - our lack of staying power in any protracted conflict-is central not just to the enemy's strategy but its ideology, which holds that a corrupt, faithless West will be no match for a newly militant Islam.

It hasn't been too long since al-Qaida's second-in-command was confidently saying that Iraq would prove just a repeat of Vietnam. Speaking of those Iraqis now cooperating with our troops, he predicted that America "is about to depart and abandon them, just as it abandoned their like in Vietnam."

What a shock it must been when a new American general took command with a new strategy. Another 20,000 American troops are now being readied to secure Baghdad. And then, in cooperation with Iraqi forces, they're to begin spreading out, taking and holding enemy strongholds beyond the capital.

The terrorists are reported to be clearing out of Baghdad, headed for safer havens. What a revolting development this must be for our enemies.

And not just for our enemies. Because a new, Democrat-dominated Congress is objecting mightily to this show of strength - and this administration's determination, despite everything, to pursue victory. Democratic leaders are reacting with cries of outrage - and mounting threats to cut off support for the war, all the while proclaiming their support for the troops.

It seems a strange way to support the troops, shutting off funds for the military and objecting to reinforcements - even while padding this latest appropriation for the war with all kinds of pork, from assorted farm subsidies to flood control projects. There may be a war on, but the special interests will get their money as usual.

Then there are all those deadlines and requirements and "benchmarks" being pressed on the military by Congress. Not since Vietnam has a Congress seemed so determined to micromanage a war. Or maybe since the days of the Joint Congessional Committee on the Conduct of the War, which looked over Abraham Lincoln's shoulder while he was trying to save the Union, occasionally jiggling his elbow at critical moments.

That the Constitution of the United States makes the president commander-in-chief of the armed forces must strike the John Murthas and Nancy Pelosis as only a technicality. They seem to be outdoing each other at devising ways to impose one restriction after another on his conduct of the war. Should they actually succeed in hamstringing the armed forces of the United States, the American people will not forgive them or their party. Or at least the American people shouldn't.

In the Senate, a couple of Democrats, Joe Biden and Carl Levin, have put forth a resolution demanding that all American combat troops be called home by March of next year. Which would put our enemies on notice that, if they can just hold out till then, they'll have a clear field.

Congress could scarcely send a more hopeful message to America's foes. Or a more dispiriting one to the troops in the field, who at this point may simply want to be left alone to fight this war as best they can. With this kind of "support" in Congress, they need no interference.

Not long ago, the United States Senate, by a nigh-unanimous vote, approved the appointment of Lieut. Gen. David Petraeus to command American forces in Iraq. This is the same David Petraeus, Ph.D., who more or less wrote the book on counterinsurgency, having overseen the production of the Army's new manual on the subject.

But even before this general has had a decent chance to put his ideas into effect, the congressional leadership has begun undermining it - by criticizing his request for more troops, setting limits on how much time he'll be given to show results, and holding back money for the war.

Call it Operation Slow Bleed. It's a gradual process and, if successful, the results won't be pretty, starting with the effect of all this congressional heckling on the morale of our troops.

To quote the president, who must be feeling rather embattled himself these days: "This may be the first time in the history of the United States Congress that it has voted to send a new commander into battle and then voted to oppose his plans to succeed in (that) battle."

This is scarcely the first war in which American forces have suffered grave reverses. But to withhold reinforcements and funds just when they are most needed. Well, that kind of thing has not been seen since the Vietnam War and humiliation.

It's as if, during the Second World War, Congress had begun debating how long to wait before throwing in the towel. Say, after the Allied debacle at Dieppe, or the bloody massacre at Kasserine Pass, or even as late as the abject failure of Operation Market Garden after D-Day, or the collapse of Allied forces in the early stages of the Battle of the Bulge.

Any such debate would have been unthinkable even in the worst days of the Second World War; today it is the stuff of the daily news.

Those of us who find it incomprehensible that Congress should be toying with cutting off funds for American troops in the midst of a war are being assured that such resolutions are non-binding, that they're just for show. That's supposed to make them all right. Because all these resolutions are just a handy way for our solons to appease popular anti-war feeling without actually accepting responsibility for the drastic steps they're proposing.

But this little escape clause, like the unconvincing talk about supporting the troops even while cutting off funds for the war they're fighting, scarcely makes such tactics more palatable. It only makes them insincere.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.