The Democrats' Baghdad Two-Step

By Peter Hoekstra
Monday, July 21, 2008

It's hard not to have heard about the positive developments in Iraq lately. On Friday, the White House announced that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had reached agreement on a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last Wednesday that "security is unquestionably and remarkably better." Iraqi security forces recently took responsibility for a 10th province and expect to assume responsibility for all 18 of the country's provinces by year-end. There have been virtually no sectarian killings in 10 weeks. The Iraqi government has made important progress in political reconciliation. Regional neighbors are reestablishing embassies in Baghdad, and some of Iraq's creditors have begun to forgive the enormous debts incurred by Saddam Hussein's regime.

How have Democrats reacted to these developments? Have they reveled in the news that U.S. casualties have plummeted? Have they praised the achievements for which our troops have fought so hard? Have they congratulated the Iraqi government for progress in political reconciliation?

Not exactly.

Last Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued to ignore recent gains and instead criticized Bush and Maliki for pushing a "vague" plan to withdraw U.S. troops. Addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual convention last month, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave major foreign policy speeches. Neither even mentioned Iraq. Last Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, the leading foreign policy expert among Democrats in Congress, ignored the achievements made in Iraq and the importance of promoting stability there when he said: "If John [McCain] wants to know where the bad guys live, come back with me to Afghanistan. We know where they reside. And it's not in Iraq."

Why are the Democrats in denial about recent gains in Iraq? Unfortunately, it appears that they realize that progress is being made and want to change the subject to some other policy they can use to attack the president. Indeed, they are so opposed to acknowledging America's hard-won achievements that in a May 28 interview Pelosi credited "the goodwill of the Iranians" for "some of the success of the surge. . . . They decided in Basra when the fighting would end." As Sen. Joe Lieberman noted in a speech last year, "Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus's new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq."

Over the past few years, Pelosi and Reid have taken full advantage of every piece of bad news in Iraq to attack the Bush administration. Whenever American fatalities went up or there were major terrorist attacks, they ran to microphones to denounce the war as a hopeless failure. Al-Qaeda took a similar approach, issuing audio and video messages from Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, statements that threatened more U.S. casualties and described their plans to drive America from Iraq so they could make it the center of their crazed fantasy of creating a radical Islamic global caliphate.

Sen. Barack Obama's (current) position on Iraq is hard to nail down. He still favors the same arbitrary 16-month withdrawal timetable he promoted when violence in Iraq was at a high point. After insisting for months that the troop surge was doomed to fail, Obama now credits it with some security improvements while simultaneously claiming in a speech last week that the surge did not meet all of its benchmarks and was too expensive. Setting aside Obama's verbal acrobatics on Iraq, his campaign was caught last week trying to purge his earlier harsh criticism of the surge from its Web site.

This is no time for our elected leaders to play games about the successes and challenges in Iraq. Our troops and the Iraqi people need and deserve the recognition and support of all U.S. elected officials for their efforts to stabilize that country. They need to know that we are with them and do not want them to fail.

While there is much still to be done in Iraq, recent events give many reasons for hope. Rather than always focusing on the negative of one front in the battle against radical jihadists, Democratic congressional leaders need to acknowledge success, highlight challenges and lay out a comprehensive long-term strategy to confront, contain and ultimately defeat the threat facing America. Our country cannot be led by naysayers who slide from issue to issue. The responsibilities of leadership go far beyond what Democrats in Congress are demonstrating today.

The writer, a representative from Michigan, is the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

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