Losing the war is winning

Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2007

George Orwell, call your office. You can add to your list of opposites ("war is peace," "ignorance is strength" and "freedom is slavery") a new one. It is the emerging plan of congressional Democrats, joined by at least one Democratic presidential candidate: "Losing is winning."

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After years of embracing defeat and openly saying of Iraq "the war is lost" and "this surge is not accomplishing anything" (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., among others), is that a light at the end of the Democrats' dark tunnel?

Apparently hoping to head off a potentially positive report next month from the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, some leading Democrats are acknowledging that the surge of American troops is succeeding.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., who recently returned from Iraq with Sen. John Warner, R-Va., says, "The military aspects of President Bush's new strategy in Iraq ... appear to have produced some credible and positive results." Levin is by no means a neocon, noting in a conference call with reporters that the purpose of the surge was to help produce a political settlement, which has not yet been achieved. Still, even acknowledging progress on the ground is a far cry from a spokesperson for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said recently that Democratic leaders are "not willing to concede there are positive things to point to" in Iraq. That was less than a month ago, but some are willing to make such a concession now for the same reason they weren't before: politics.

U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., voted against authorization for President Bush to invade Iraq. But he told the Olympian newspaper he is convinced the military needs more time in the region and that a hasty pullout would produce chaos that could only help Iran and damage U.S. security. Baird, too, recently returned from a visit to the region, including Iraq.

Even Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who can't afford to be on the wrong side of victory no matter how far away it might seem, acknowledges the troop surge is producing results. So does Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Of course, they quickly add, as did Levin, that a political settlement has not yet been achieved and isn't the Iraqi government just awful for taking an August vacation? This is said while Congress is on vacation. In politics and with vacations, this is known as trying to have it both ways so that no matter how things turn out, Democrats can claim they were on the right side all along.

Yes, says Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., the surge is "working," but according to her it is coming "too late" and so it's time to bring the troops home. If one suffers from terminal cancer and a last-ditch effort is made with experimental drugs to save the patient's life, would a responsible physician give up and declare the situation hopeless, even as the drugs show progress fighting the disease?

All of Iraq's political leaders are not on vacation. The Bush administration says Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other members of the elected government are negotiating a political settlement that would be acceptable to all sides. In his weekly radio address last Saturday, President Bush predicted political progress at the local level that will help end the national stalemate. I know, he once said, "mission accomplished" when it wasn't. But the window for measuring accomplishment this time is a lot narrower.

Democrats at last appear to have a war strategy. It is to snatch victory from the jaws of victory, even after claiming lack of progress and forecasting defeat for at least the last three years. Before the Internet, talk radio, cable TV and the bloggers, they might have been able to get away with it, but Democrats have painted themselves into a corner from which they cannot escape. If Bush administration policies produce a political settlement and a sustained decline in violence, Democrats won't be able to claim they favored victory all along. If violence increases and there is no political settlement, Democrats will be left to win the war and the peace on their own, should they win the White House and maintain their congressional majority.

Embracing victory, however reluctantly, is a risky gamble for their party, but what other choice do they have?

• Cal Thomas can be contacted at tmseditors@tribune.com.



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