Victor Davis Hanson

More than seven months ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., claimed that Iraq was “lost.”

But that was hardly the case. In fact, Sunni insurgents were just beginning to turn on al-Qaida and join us.

So now, despite their noisy anti-war base, most leading Democrats quietly are backing away from their talk about bringing American troops in Iraq home on rigid timetables.

Maybe they are learning that quitting Iraq now might be stupid politics since bad news — in fact, all news — from the front is making fewer and fewer headlines.

Democrats know that Republicans will use clips of more “General Betray Us” ads and defeatist assertions next summer when the election campaign heats up and there may be even more progress in Iraq.

Sober Democrats also suspect that their anti-war rhetoric is proving useful in other ways to the Bush administration. Their attacks on the elected al-Maliki government in Iraq often make them look like illiberal “bad cops” eager to pull the plug on the error-plagued but nevertheless constitutional government in Iraq just when it seems to be improving.

True, electric production still cannot provide Iraqis 24-hour service — but now the problem is partly because Iraqi consumption has soared above prewar levels. And oil production, while not quite yet at pre-invasion levels, is climbing — now nearly 2.5 million barrels a day, according to Iraq’s oil minister. Plus, Iraq is benefiting from today’s near-$100 per barrel oil prices.

More importantly, civilian casualties are down in Baghdad by 75 percent from June, according to the U.S. military. And Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently announced that terrorist attacks in Iraq have decreased by nearly 80 percent from last year.

In other words, for a variety of unforeseen reasons, the furor and partisan bad blood over Iraq are lessening here in the States. The debate over Iraq seems to be changing from “we can’t win” to whether victory is worth the aggregate costs.

Expect this new battle to be more retrospective, as each side tries to inflate or deflate how much blood and treasure have been spent on the Iraq War — and whether the cost has led to greater American security both in and beyond Iraq.

As fear of defeat in Iraq recedes from the political landscape, look to a growing consensus elsewhere. “Neocon” — the term often used to describe “new” conservatives who today support fostering democracy in the Middle East — may still be a dirty word.

But if you take the anger about George Bush out of the equation, along with the Iraq war and the fear of any more invasions by the U.S., why not support democratic reform in the Middle East? We know the alternatives only play into the hands of terrorists.


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.