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Controversy of the week

Iraq: It's in the GOP's hands—for now

Iraq: It's in the GOP's hands—for now 

All of a sudden, President Bush and the Republicans have the upper hand on Iraq, said Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal. Until this spring, the news from the war zone was consistently bad. Faced with an increasingly disheartened electorate, “dozens of Republicans were threatening to call it quits” and join Democrats in insisting on a firm pullout date. Then President Bush made “an impassioned plea.” Wait until September, he urged, so we can give the brilliant new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, a chance to turn things around with the “surge” of 30,000 additional troops. “And slowly, slowly began a trickle of good news: fewer car and suicide bombings here, fewer violent civilian deaths there.” When Petraeus testified to these and other positive developments before Congress last week, the defeatist Democrats who said Iraq was already lost were proved wrong. “The war is in a better place” now, and so are the loyal Republicans who are joining Bush in insisting on success, even if it takes many years.

But the war is not, in fact, in a better place, said Fred Kaplan in Slate.com. Questionable statistics showing a reduction in the carnage don’t change the fact that Iraq’s Shiite leaders have no interest in reconciling with the Sunnis. Anyone with open eyes can see that Iraq is well along in the process of “fissuring into at least three separate countries.” Yet following Petraeus’ testimony, in a speech “rife with evasion and fantasy,” Bush tried to portray Iraq as a unified ally under assault by foreign terrorists. In reality, Iraq is being destroyed from within by its own “sectarian clashes,” with al Qaida in Iraq responsible for only 5 percent of the daily, gruesome attacks.

In another flight of fancy, said Dan Froomkin in TheWashingtonPost.com, Bush claimed that he was planning to withdraw thousands of troops over the next year because of battlefield successes. “Actually, he has no choice.” Many of the troops in Iraq are exhausted, disgusted, and overdue to come home, and the Pentagon has openly admitted that it can’t sustain a force of 160,000 there much longer. Even Bush has stopped trying to sell the greatest fantasy of all—that Iraq can serve as “a model of democracy in the Arab world,” said Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post. In his nationally televised speech, Bush argued that we must stay in Iraq to avert civil war, genocide, and regional chaos. Our strategic rationale for fighting this war, in other words, has changed “from hope to fear.”

Not so, said Frederick W. Kagan and William Kristol in The Weekly Standard. In Anbar province, the Sunnis have turned on the al Qaida fighters who were terrorizing them, and have helped U.S. forces kill and capture hundreds of these dangerous fanatics. “Al Qaida in Iraq has gone from near-ascendancy in 2006 to near-collapse in 2007.” Thanks to the surge, Shiite militias and death squads have also been defanged. The progress in Iraq is real, and Bush and Petraeus are certainly offering more hope than the Democrats, who have no plan and are openly rooting for American defeat.

Progress or not, said Ronald Brownstein in the Los Angeles Times, Bush may cede the final decisions about Iraq to a Democrat. The public remains unhappy about the lack of political progress in Iraq, as well as “the unremitting tide of civilian and military casualties.” GOP strategists are deeply worried that when voters go to the polls in the 2008 elections, the U.S. will be fighting essentially the same war that helped prompt 2006’s GOP disaster. In effect, Bush “has virtually dared voters to view the next election as a referendum on the war.” That’s a dare that Republicans may come to bitterly regret.

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