Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said yesterday that he would be willing to consider withdrawing a brigade of about 4,000 soldiers early next year. But Petraeus said any further reduction from the current force of 130,000 could only be made if security conditions in Iraq improve.

The remarks came as Petraeus prepares to make a highly anticipated progress report next week. Several congressional studies released recently have said that Iraq’s army and its government have fallen short of most benchmarks set to measure their progress.

No matter what Petraeus reports next week, said Marco Martinez in USA Today, “it's worth reminding the American people—and all politicians in Washington—that the troops must not become the rope in a political tug of war on Capitol Hill.”

“Nobody wants U.S. troops to remain in Iraq forever,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, “but neither is it in anyone's interests to see another humiliating American withdrawal.” So instead of rushing to leave—as some Democrats demand—Congress should pay attention to the abundant signs of progress Petraeus has already pointed out. Bombings are down since the surge began earlier this year. So are insurgent attacks. And Iraqi security forces number 360,000—up 20 percent from a year ago.

Democrats will probably “fall into their usual cringe” at the sight of Petraeus’ medals next week, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times (paid subscription required). But they need to screw up the courage to ask him tough questions. For example, why is it only the U.S. military that says violence is down? Morgue, hospital, and police records say civilians are dying in Iraq at twice the pace of last year. That’s progress?