Paul Greenberg

These are times that try conservatives' souls. The polls all say so. Yet there are satisfactions. For some of us would rather go down with the U.S.S. McCain than join the multitudes at the shrine of the Savior of the Moment. Duty calls.

Also judgment. For there's never been any question who's the known quantity in this presidential race, is there? John McCain has been around for what seems like forever, or at least since the Reagan Revolution. He's served his country in war and peace, generally with distinction, regularly with heroism.

Agree or disagree with Sen./Naval Captain McCain's stands, he's taken them. Including some that were not popular with his political base, like trying finally to fix the country's broken immigration system, or joining with the reasonables on the other side of the aisle to fill all those vacancies on the federal bench. He's been his own man, gone his own way, and never tried to cover his tracks. If he had, it wouldn't have worked. Unlike his opponent in this election, he lacks the rhetorical talent to obfuscate eloquently.

If there is a single issue, stand, time or decision that sums up the choice in this presidential election, it is the contrast between these two presidential candidates on what has become known as the Surge.

Only last year, even the name for this new strategy in Iraq was debatable, and the odds against its succeeding disheartening. Well, at least the left was disheartened. And maybe most of the middle, too. In January 2007 -- not so long ago, really -- one poll showed American public opinion on Iraq to be sharply divided: A majority of Americans -- 71 percent -- was split between those who thought the war was going only badly and those who thought it was going very badly. Not since Vietnam had Americans been so demoralized in wartime.

Any presidential candidate in these dismal circumstances who would have thought, let alone said, that the country could yet pursue a winning strategy in Iraq would have been inviting defeat. Which is what John McCain did. It wasn't the first time he'd shown extraordinary courage. And leadership. By now he's been vindicated by events. For only those in ideological denial still refuse to recognize that the Surge has worked, and that victory in Iraq is within reach. If we don't let it slip away.

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.