A specter is haunting the Democratic Party. The long-awaited defeat of American forces in Iraq, on which so many critics of this administration have built their fondest hopes, seems to have been delayed again and - unsettling thought - may not even materialize. Even the dreaded word, Victory, is being whispered.
Who would have thought it? Besides, of course, that dwindling minority of Americans who never gave up on the valor of America's armed forces - and the flexibility of their commanders, including their much-despised commander-in-chief. (This president's ratings in the polls have dropped almost as low as Harry Truman's during the Korean War.)
The turnaround in Iraq, aka The Surge, is proving embarrassing for the kind of critics of the war who dare not admit being embarrassed. To do so would be to entertain the unthinkable thought that they might, just might, have been wrong.
This is no time for critics of the war to go wobbly. Their outward confidence in American defeat must be preserved, at least till next November. Even if all the indicators they used to cite as evidence that the war was lost have begun to go in the opposite direction:
The number of enemy attacks has fallen month after month since the Surge began to take effect.
Mortar and rocket assaults in Iraq, however highly publicized and bloody awful in themselves, are down to their lowest rate in almost two years.
The number of civilian deaths has fallen dramatically. Iraqi refugees are returning in growing numbers despite continuing risks. Once again they're voting with their feet, this time in favor of a better, not worse, Iraq.
This new strategy in Iraq is really an old one. It amounts to the systematic application of classic counter-insurgency tactics under a new commanding general in Iraq, David Petraeus, who wrote the Army manual on the subject. The results have been dramatic, and quicker than anyone might have hoped:
In once chaotic provinces like Anbar, an alliance with Sunni tribesmen is paying off as old enemies become new allies. American commanders and diplomats on the ground are no longer waiting for the ever-dithering "government" in Baghdad to pacify the country; they're making a separate peace, and it seems to be taking hold.
Even in Shi'ite Iraq, the new strategy emphasizes a patchwork of practical alliances with one militia or another rather than depending on the theoretical and only theoretical sway of a central government that hasn't governed in some time.
The result of all this is that al-Qaida is in undeniable retreat, even rout, all across Iraq as ad-hoc arrangements that work have replaced airy schemes that don't.
Every war will surprise you, as an American commander named Eisenhower once said, and doubtless this one will continue to surprise, too. But by now only the ideologically blinded can deny that the Surge is showing signs of success.
Those who urge an immediate withdrawal from Iraq have already written the sad history of that war, if a bit prematurely. Why should Democratic leaders trouble to revise it now, after having convinced so many Americans that defeat is unavoidable? It's so much easier to pretend that nothing has changed than to take new facts into account. It would be embarrassing. Better to stick with denial.
Even when the Surge was still an untried plan, even before it was formally announced, the Democratic Party's leadership was almost uniform in assuring the country it would never work:
"Surging forces is a strategy that you have already tried, and that has already failed," Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the leaders of the Democratic majorities in both the Senate and House, confidently predicted in a January letter to the president. And they were but two members of the whole, partisan chorus in Congress. There were many others. For notable example:
"A 'surge' of American troops will do nothing." -Chris Dodd, December 24, 2006
"Senator Lugar said a little while ago that he's not confident the president's plan will work. I tell you what: I'm confident it will not work." -John Kerry, January 24, 2007.
"The surge was supposed to bring stability. Š It hasn't and it won't."-Ted Kennedy, May 1, 2007
"The surge has led to nothing but a surge in Americans dying." -Bill Richardson, June 19, 2007
". . . (t)he president is still losing the Iraq war." -Jim McDermott, June 25, 2007, as the Surge was beginning to show results
"Today a majority of the Senate sees that the surge is not working. Š Do we change course now or wait until September? Š I believe the answer is clear." -Dianne Feinstein, July 17, 2007
"We don't need a report that wins the Nobel Prize for creative statistics, or the Pulitzer for fiction." -Rahm Emanuel, September 7, 2007
"The reports that you provide to us," Hillary Clinton told Gen. Petraeus directly on September 11, 2007, "really require the willing suspension of disbelief."
But even the consistently vitriolic John Murtha, perhaps the harshest congressional critic of the administration's conduct of this war, let it slip just last month: "I think the Surge is working."
But he quickly backtracked, explaining that the new strategy was working only militarily, and that the war would have to be won by the Iraqis politically.
Good point. Only the congressman doesn't seem to have noticed, or can't admit, that the Surge has a political component, too - even as Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker are making peace with one Iraqi faction after another.
It would be as foolish to proclaim victory in Iraq now as it was for all these politicos to proclaim defeat for so long. But something has changed and is changing in Iraq. That much is clear. Yet these leaders of the opposition remain in denial.
How strange: Those who long have been critical of this president and commander-in-chief for being so rigid, so inflexible, so unaffected by the changing facts on the ground, can't seem to recognize how flexible this same George W. Bush is finally proving. By now this "inflexible" president has changed his secretary of defense, his commanding general in the field, and the whole American strategy in Iraq - while his critics don't seem to have changed at all.