The Iraq debate in Washington has been caught in a time warp for several months now. How did we get into the war? Did the president "mislead" Congress about weapons of mass destruction? What did Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and assorted reporters know about CIA operative Valerie Plame? All of which questions invariably lead to: How soon can we leave Iraq?
Those who live in Washington will recognize the hallmarks of a campaign of political destruction against the White House, and those who travel abroad can testify that overseas they are scratching their heads over the American talent for getting completely sidetracked from what is important by political infighting.
Here are the real questions: Are we making progress in Iraq? Does the White House have a plan? Despite the vociferous assertions of many Democrats, the answers are yes and yes. The United States and its allies have been systematically stewarding a political process that has stayed on track every step of the way, from a provisional government to a constitutional convention to a negotiated and ratified constitution to parliamentary elections, which will be held on Dec. 15. The elections will lead to a coalition government that will govern Iraq for the next four years and include all three ethnic groups, Shi'ites, Kurds and Sunnis. In the Middle East, a region where democracy has until recently made very halting progress (except in Israel), the democratic process in Iraq is truly impressive.
Most reporting is not designed to lead Americans to this conclusion, and you have to admire the steadfastness of the 30 percent to 40 percent of Americans still supporting our presence in Iraq in the face of a daily barrage of bad news, and calls from Democrats like Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania that Americans troops should be brought home with all due dispatch. From most media you would not know that the uprising of crazed fundamentalists under Abu Musab al Zarqawi along with elements of the former Saddam Hussein regime is focused in four of Iraq's 18 provinces. What happens in the other 14 is not news, of course.
Today in Annapolis, President Bush will be giving yet another major speech on progress and U.S. strategy in Iraq. Americans are thirsty for good news from Iraq about accomplishments they know are taking place, from friends and family who are serving there, but never see reported. Speaking at the Heritage Foundation on Monday, for instance, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt spoke about the promise shown by the 200,000 Iraqi police and military, who have now been trained and who are fighting hard alongside American troops. A big element in future success is that Iraqi troops can now be left behind to guard villages where insurgents have been defeated, which wipes out rebel strongholds methodically one after the other.
Now, the president's critics will dismiss any good news as propaganda. In yet another blast at the president, veteran Bush-basher Sy Hersh writes in the New Yorker, "Many of the military's most senior generals are deeply frustrated, but they say nothing in public, because they don't want to jeopardize their careers." He quotes - anonymously, of course - a former defense official as saying that the administration has "so terrified the generals that they know they won't go public." Which is why one has to give thanks for the courage of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who often stands out as one of the few honest men in Washington. On Monday, Mr. Lieberman broke ranks with the Democratic Party to speak publicly of what he witnessed during his fourth visit to Iraq, over Thanksgiving. "The country is now going from Saddam Hussein to self-government and, I'd add, self-protection," Mr. Lieberman said. "About two-thirds of the country is in really pretty good shape." Signs of life returning to normal are the profusion of satellite dishes on rooftops and cell phones everywhere. "Overall, I came back encouraged."
Furthermore, in a long article yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lieberman warned about the consequences of withdrawing U.S. troops too soon. "More work needs to be done of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood - unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn."
Spot on, Mr. Lieberman. Let us not snatch defeat in Iraq from the jaws of victory.
Helle Dale is director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in The Washington Times