Observing the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, one profound truth came shining through. And it was Ambassador Crocker who uttered it, as he summarized what the United States faces on two battlefields - the one in Iraq and the political one at home, a major part of which is the presidential campaign.
Crocker said, "Developments over the last seven months have strengthened my sense of a positive trend. Immense challenges remain and progress is uneven and often frustratingly slow, but there is progress." And then Crocker added, "Sustaining that progress will require continuing U.S. resolve and commitment. What has been achieved is substantial but it is also reversible."
Critics who have demanded an immediate pullout of U.S. forces ought to say whether they are prepared to shoulder the blame should the gains in Iraq be reversed by a premature withdrawal.
Only those politically invested in the defeat of their own country - a sad state to be in - would deny that progress has been made toward Iraq's establishment as a functioning government and more stable country. As a Wall Street Journal editorial noted recently, when the surge began last year, "al-Qaida dominated large swaths of central Iraq, Baghdad was a killing zone, Sunni and Shiites were heading toward civil war, and the Iraqi government was seen as a failure. Today, al-Qaida has been cleared from all but the northern reaches of Anbar and Divala Provinces, Iraqis feel safe enough to resume normal lives, Sunni sheiks are working with coalition forces, and the long process of Sunni-Shiite political reconciliation has begun."
This is where polarized politics has taken us. Not even war is a good enough reason to support a president of the other party, if opposition strengthens the possibility of political victory, even if this opposition makes victory on the battlefield more difficult for those doing the fighting.
Is there any doubt that, as in Vietnam, our enemies are encouraged by domestic war opponents and believe that if they can just hang on through the next inauguration, they might achieve victory?
While the road is difficult, because this war is not limited to Iraq or Afghanistan, but is worldwide, there are many reasons to be cautiously optimistic. As David Brooks noted in the New York Times, "Iraqis are growing more optimistic. Fifty-five percent of Iraqis say their lives are going well, up from 39 percent last August, according to a poll conducted by ABC News and other global television networks. Forty-nine percent now say the U.S. was right to invade Iraq, the highest figure recorded since this poll began in 2004."
Does anyone find it strange that support for U.S. efforts to quell the violence is higher in Iraq than in the United States? What is responsible for this approval gap? Part of the explanation is that too many Americans - including much of the media - have grown tired of the war. We want to move on to more pleasant things, like celebrities and the babies they are having out of wedlock.
The enemies of freedom - ours and Iraq's - would be happy to see us return to such trivialities while they focus on winning their war.
As Ambassador Crocker put it, what is needed is resolve and commitment. Al-Qaida and other enemies of the United States seem to have it. They are betting we don't. We'll soon know who is right.