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Surge's Success Going Unnoticed

This column was written by William Kristol.

In order to preserve the cosmic harmony, it seems the gods insist that good news in one place be offset by misfortune elsewhere. It may well be that Gen. David Petraeus is going to lead us to victory in Iraq. He is certainly off to a good start. If the karmic price of success in Iraq is utter embarrassment for senior Bush officials in Washington, D.C. — well, in our judgment, the trade-off is worth it. The world will surely note our success or failure in Iraq. It will not long remember the gang that couldn't shoot straight at the Justice Department — or, for that matter, the antics of congressional Democrats — unless either so weakens the administration as to undercut our mission in Iraq.

Obviously, it's too early to say anything more definitive than that there are real signs of progress in Baghdad. The cocksure defeatism of war critics of two months ago, when the surge was announced, does seem to have been misplaced. The latest Iraq Update (pdf) by Kimberly Kagan summarizes the early effects of the new strategy backed up by, as yet, just one additional U.S. brigade deployed in theater (with more to be added in the coming weeks):

This "rolling surge" focuses forces on a handful of neighborhoods in Baghdad, and attempts to expand security out from those neighborhoods. . . . A big advantage of a "rolling surge" is that the population and the enemy sense the continuous pressure of ever-increasing forces. Iraqis have not seen such a prolonged and continuous planned increase of U.S. forces before. … The continued, increasing presence of U.S. forces appears to be having an important psychological, as well as practical, effect on the enemy and the people of Iraq. . . . [Meanwhile] in Ramadi, in the belt south of Baghdad stretching from Yusifiyah to Salman Pak, and northeast in Diyala Province, . . . U.S. and Iraqi forces have deprived al Qaeda of the initiative.

This sense of momentum is confirmed by many other reports in the media, and from Americans and Iraqis on the ground.

But back in Washington, congressional Democrats are still mired in the fall of 2006 and seem determined to be as irresponsible as ever. They're being beaten back — in part thanks to the fighting spirit of stalwart congressional Republicans. Last week, the Senate defeated a resolution that would have restricted the use of U.S. troops in Iraq and set March 31, 2008, as a target date for removing U.S. forces from combat.

On the same day, on a mostly party-line vote, the House Appropriations Committee reported out the Democratic version of a supplemental appropriations bill for the war. It was an odd piece of legislation — an appropriation to fight a war replete with provisions intended to ensure we lose it.

Here's what the Democratic legislation does, according to the Washington Post: "Under the House bill, the Iraqi government would have to meet strict benchmarks. . . . If by July 1 the president could not certify any progress, U.S. troops would begin leaving Iraq, to be out before the end of this year. If Bush did certify progress, the Iraqi government would have until Oct. 1 to meet the benchmarks, or troops would begin withdrawing then. In any case, withdrawals would have to begin by March 1, 2008, and conclude by the end of that summer."

Got that? Oh yes, in addition to the arbitrary timelines for the removal of troops, there's pork. As the Post explains, "Included in the legislation is a lot of money to help win support. The price tag exceeds the president's war request by $24 billion." Some of the extra money goes to bail out spinach farmers hurt by E. coli, to pay for peanut storage, and to provide additional office space for the lawmakers themselves. So much for an emergency war appropriations bill.

The legislation may collapse on the floor of the House this week. It certainly deserves to. Republicans can insist on a clean supplemental — no timelines to reassure the enemy that if they just hang on, we'll be gone before long, and no pork. They can win this fight — and if they do, combined with progress in Iraq, the lasting news from March 2007 will not be Bush administration haplessness; it will be that we are on the way to success in Iraq.

By William Kristol

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