Preserving The Narrative

In order to preserve the talking points over the Iraq conflict, Congress has been trying to throw cold water over Gen. Petraeus’ report on the surge in advance of its release next week. However, it looks like those attempts aren’t quite working as intended as a Congressional report has indicated that security really is improving, and if the current trajectory holds the Iraqi Army can start taking significant amounts of responsibility away from the US within 12-18 months:

General James Jones, the retired commandant of the Marine Corps and former NATO commander who headed the commission, described “impressive” but “uneven progress” by Iraqi forces, and “dramatic results” for coalition forces in Anbar Province. There, he said, the changing loyalties of tribal leaders effectively meant that 35,000 to 40,000 fighters once supporting Al Qaeda were now backing the coalition.

But the 12-to-18-month estimate until Iraqi forces gain autonomy, described in the report and by Jones in congressional testimony Thursday, would push back further into the future estimates of when American forces can step back from their leading role.

The finding is the latest in a series of ever-lengthening predictions by American officials about when Iraqi forces might be able to operate independently. Congressional Democrats appear increasingly ready to compromise on their demands for a withdrawal date, but resist any open-ended extension of the military mandate in Iraq.

The “withdraw immediately” contingent of the Democratic Party seems to keep losing out. The impetus for an immediate withdrawal keeps faltering in the face of evidence that the Iraqis are beginning to actively fight off groups like al-Qaeda.

The Democrats have put themselves in a position where success in Iraq is adverse to their interests — which opens them up to the criticism that they are placing partisan politics above the national interest. The fact that good news from Iraq seems so distressing to the Democrats should give one pause. There’s a difference between respectful and reasonable dissent over issues of policy and siding with defeat, and many Democrats continue to cross that line. The short-term advantage may side with the Democrats, but the long-term damage to the reputation of the Democratic Party could be grave.

The Democrats are trying to preserve the narrative, while the pro-surge side (which is increasingly bipartisan) has the benefit of the facts being on their side. There is much to be done in Iraq — especially in terms of political development and reconciliation, but Senator Reid’s bold assertion that the war was “lost” several months ago seems painfully out of date.

The Democrats keep wanting to preserve their narrative of failure in Iraq, but the facts keep making that more and more difficult. Iraq isn’t “won” yet — but it is certainly not “lost” and trying to preemptively negate Gen. Petraeus’ testimony is a foolish move. The military is the most trusted institution in American society today. Congress is the least. When it comes down to who the people will believe, it’s a lot harder to swallow the Congressional failure narrative than it is to listen to someone who’s actually been in the fight and who knows what is really going on in Iraq.

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