Victor Davis Hanson

The gloomy election-year refrain is that America is mired in Iraq, took its eye off Afghanistan, empowered Iran and is losing the war on terror. But how accurate is that pessimistic diagnosis?

First, the good news. For all the talk of a recent Tet-like offensive in Basra, the Mahdi Army of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr suffered an ignominious setback when his gunmen were routed from their enclaves.

This rout helped the constitutional — and Shiite-dominated — government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki renew its authority, and has encouraged Sunnis to re-enter government. Two great threats to Iraqi autonomy — Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen and Sunni-supported al-Qaida terrorists — have both now been repulsed by an elected government and its supporters.

Our armed forces are stretched, but Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and his colonels are quietly transforming a top-heavy conventional colossus into more mobile counterinsurgency forces.

Petraeus’ recent nomination to Centcom commander suggests that, like the growing influence of Gens. U.S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman in 1863, or of George Marshall when he reconfigured the Army in 1940, we at last are beginning to get the right officers in the right places at the right time.

The despairing enemy seems to sense this as well. The more al-Qaida mouthpiece Ayman al-Zawahiri threatens the West, the more he sounds like Hitler's shrill propagandist Joseph Goebbels in his bunker as the Third Reich was crumbling.

In his latest desperate rant, a suddenly "green" Zawahiri was reduced to appealing to environmentally conscious Muslims to fault the United States for our supposed culpability for global warming! No wonder polls across the Middle East show a sharp decline in support for his boss, Osama bin Laden.

We haven't been attacked in over six years since Sept. 11, while the FBI has arrested dozens of jihadist plotters. Our elected officials squabble over the Patriot Act, Guantanamo and the loss of constitutional liberties. Yet, the odd thing is not the nature of such a necessary debate, but the inability of critics to muster enough support to repeal post-9/11 legislation and policies -- a tacit admission that these measures have worked and saved thousands of American lives.

But is the war then nearly won? Hardly.

And that brings us to the bad news. We still censor ourselves in fears of terrorist threats, mortgaging the Enlightenment tradition of free and unfettered speech. In Europe, cartoonists, novelists, opera producers, filmmakers and even the pope are choosing their words very carefully about Islam -- in fear they will become the objects of riots and death threats.

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.