Victor Davis Hanson

Critics of the U.S. troop "surge" in Iraq, called for by President George Bush in January, early on cited American losses and then announced the plan's failure. Supporters, on the other hand, have seen progress from new tactics (which, many argue, should have been adopted far earlier).

Such wide disagreement over a military campaign in progress is not that unusual. Sixty years after World War II, historians, even with the benefits of hindsight, still argue over the cost-benefit ratios and strategic results of diverse battles from Operation Market Garden to Okinawa.

The U.S. military reports that the surge in Iraq has helped reduce violence and defeat terrorists. But its officers also warn of manpower shortages, as well as commitments in Europe, Japan, the Balkans, Korea and elsewhere in the Middle East. We can't maintain the surge at present manpower levels in Iraq indefinitely.

So how do we know whether the surge is working - especially whether its apparent present tactical success will translate into long-term strategic advantage?

In September, Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, will issue a status report on the war to Congress. Experts then will study quality-of-life issues in Iraq, such as the status of water, power and sewage services. American casualty figures will be weighed against a sense of improving or worsening security. And we will again examine the Iraqi government's ability to provide effective anti-terrorist forces and relieve some of our responsibilities.

But in the meantime, the American public can look to more subtle indicators to get some sense of Gen. Petraeus' current progress or failure.

Do Democratic opposition leaders keep blaming each other for voting for the Iraq war? Or are they now talking about expanding military operations to other countries? Sen. Hillary Clinton once was damned for voting to authorize the war in Iraq. But her even more liberal rival Sen. Barrack Obama, D-Ill., now expresses his own willingness to invade nuclear Islamic Pakistan.

Do anti-war politicians frequently proclaim our defeat in Iraq - or instead worry that the war might be won? In the spring, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Iraq was lost, the surge a failure and Gen. Petraeus not "in touch." We haven't seen Sen. Reid much lately.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.