Dems cannot handle the truth about Iraq



The politics of Iraq, tilting strongly against the war for two years, will likely move back toward the center now, thanks to the impressive testimony of our top commander and to the outrageous attacks on him by some Democrats and their party’s wackadoo wing.

The performance of Gen. David Petraeus over two days of congressional grilling was pitch perfect in its cautious tones and politically adroit in substance. By saying he planned to bring thousands home by Christmas and 30,000 by next July, he outflanked the demands for wholesale withdrawal of all 170,000 troops. He also made a by-the-numbers case that we are winning real progress across a broad front, a one-two punch that will shake up the Iraq debate.

It probably didn’t hurt that the hearings covered the sixth anniversary of 9/11, thus adding an emotional element even though there is no evidence Iraq had any role in the attacks.

Botched war

The upshot of the long-awaited testimony was that the Bush White House claimed more time to see if it can finally succeed in a war it has botched for more than four years, and almost certainly will add to its slight uptick in support that started when earlier reports showed the troop surge was succeeding.

For Democrats, the hearings were a disaster. They don’t have the votes to force a withdrawal and many were left sputtering mad over their inability to get a usable quote out of Petraeus or Ambassador Ryan Crocker that would allow them to declare defeat for Bush’s strategy. Never before has it been so clear that some — Ted Kennedy, for example — are putting partisanship ahead of country.

Indeed, their performance was so shockingly awful that I am inclined to believe charges that some Democrats actually hope we lose. Up to now, I’ve always viewed such charges as rancid partisanship that demonized legitimate differences. Now I’m not so sure.

My distress began with a smear on Petraeus from Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., who declared his testimony not credible — before Petraeus had even spoken! Far worse was the scandalous newspaper ad by that shouted “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” There is a special place in hell for such vile people.

And there is a special place for a political party that obeys them — minority status. Democrats are flirting with an electoral disaster next year with their strident anti-military tone. It’s almost as though our success in Iraq has driven them to desperation — calling our military leaders liars, shills and traitors. It’s one thing to be the loyal opposition and give voice to public frustration; it’s quite another to trash the nation’s honored and courageous soldiers. While some Republicans were skeptical, none was disrespectful or hostile.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., the party’s presidential front-runner, struck a pose that was somber and critical but not outright hostile. Neither was she very effective, giving the impression she didn’t have much fire in the belly for the issue. She used seven of her 10 minutes late Tuesday to express “disbelief” about the extent of progress and said the situation was “unlikely to improve.” The two questions she asked were not very probing and were easily parried by Petraeus and Crocker.

Most Americans are too smart to side with the far left against the military. Recent polls have shown that, while a sizable majority still oppose the war, they are also willing to trust our military leaders to solve the problems far more than either party.

Of course, that same public remains impatient and the politics could shift again if conditions don’t noticeably improve. The greatest concern is the inability of the Iraqi Army and police to defend their country and of the government to be more than a front for sectarian militias. Clear and fairly dramatic progress on both is necessary to hold and build on public support.

President Bush has already bet his own legacy on the war. Now the ante has been raised to include the next president, as well.

X Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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