Republicans have been doing plenty of soul searching over the last week. From the long term questions of who will lead the party and under what principles will it be led, to the short term questions of how to get through the next two years of a Democrat trifecta in the government. Among those short term questions are ones that may determine the course of the country for the next few decades at least; the off-shore drilling ban, federal funding for abortion, and the fairness doctrine, to name a few.
But there is one issue that the Democrats are poised to capitalize on-Iraq. I know it seems counter intuitive, since the Republican party has staunchly supported the war effort over the last four years, and the Democrat party has just as staunchly opposed it. But the transfer of power from President Bush to President-elect Obama means that the Democrat party is now in a position to take credit for the success of the war.
Obama's plan for Iraq is fairly simple. It calls for the withdrawal of all US combat forces from Iraq on a 16 month timeline. President Obama will be credited by many Americans with ending the war, by virtue of having been the guy in charge when the war ended. But the truth is that the war is already very near the end, and we are at this point no thanks to the Democrat party. First, the distinction needs to be made between the war with Iraq, and the war in Iraq.
The war with Iraq was fought and won in a matter of weeks. When President Bush appeared on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 and declared that major combat operations were over, and was shown with a (now infamous) 'mission accomplished' banner in the background, he was entirely correct. The military forces of one country, the US, engaged the military forces of another country, Iraq. We won, plain and simple.
The war in Iraq began a few weeks later, as an insurgency coalesced around three distinct groups; Saddam loyalists who sought his return to power, Sunni and Shia militia groups determined to seek vengeance for decades of abuses, and a group of foreign fighters loyal to Bin Laden seeking to kill Americans and humiliate America.
Those loyal to Saddam fought until he was captured, which really took the wind out of their sails. The Sunni and Shia militias fought in mostly small groups to settle blood feuds with others. The were vicious and brutal, but outside of Baghdad they were not organized into any coherent force, until the Samarra mosque bombing in Feb. 2006. This was the flashpoint that started a surge in sectarian violence, eventually quelled by the Anbar Awakening and the surge in American forces into Iraq. The third group, the foreign fighters sent by Bin Laden, called themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq, and planned to take advantage of the chaos in Iraq to build a new Afghanistan-a lawless area in which Bin laden could freely operate. They followed the Taliban's guidance on motivation, and forced Iraqis to cooperate with them by threatening brutal retaliation. For this group as well, it was the surge and the Anbar Awakening that turned the tide and now has AQI all but admitting defeat. They are still in Iraq, still plotting and still planning. But although they remain dangerous, their reign of terror in Iraq has ended.
So where are we at with Iraq now? Two of the three insurgent movements have been defeated, and the third is completely defensive. Iraq will be holding provincial elections next January, which is the last of the 18 benchmarks set forth by the US Congress. (I'd like to see a list of any 18 objectives given to the US Congress and their progress in the last two years.)
It was overwhelmed by the election news, but the US handed over another province to the Iraqi government two weeks ago. Now 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces are now under direct Iraqi control. Iraqi political control, Iraqi military control, and Iraqi civilian control. here is what Iraq looked like before Wasit province was handed over-
If you're not good with maps, how about some numbers-
Of Iraq's nearly 26 million citizens, over 14 million are now living under Iraqi control.
Or Iraq's 269,817 square miles of land, 211,988 are under local Iraqi control.
US casualties are at the lowest levels of the war-
While much of the credit for the success in Iraq of course goes to the men and women of the US military, credit also has to be given to President Bush and Congressional Republicans.
Despite enormous pressure from anti-war groups and the main stream media, President Bush remained steadfast in his commitment to win the war in Iraq. He stayed strong in the face of opinion polls that advocated for retreat, and he has never shied away from meeting with the families of the fallen.
And while liberal members of the House were committing treason against eight US Marines, while the Democrat leader of the Senate was trying to kill the morale of the US military and their families and give talking points to our enemies, Republicans in the House and Senate stood together to keep America in the fight. Time after time, they stopped efforts to de-fund the war, fought back against those who would smear the military, and when the war was at it's worst, they rejected the idea of surrender in favor of sending reinforcements. It's easy to make light of the surge today, when it has been incredibly successful, but in the dark days of early 2007, they voted for the surge at risk of their political futures.
I say all of this not to pat Republicans on the back. In my mind, President Bush and Republicans in the House and Senate simply did what needed to be done. Along with several other Vets For Freedom members, I met with Congressman John Kline in Washington DC last April. When one veteran thanked Kline for having the courage to stand up to the cut and run crowd, Kline responded that it wasn't courage, it was just doing his job.
So here we are, in late 2008 getting ready for the transition to President Obama. We have nearly won in Iraq, thanks to the US fighting man and woman, and the Republicans who covered our backs here at home. The Democrats have had an unblemished record of defeatism, pessimism, and overall inability to do what needed to be done to win.
Yet as the war winds down, and the troops are brought home, the liberals will begin to craft a different message. They will start to tell everyone how the war was still lost in 2008, and only they had the political courage to end it. They will point to a stable, democratic Iraq and say 'See? All those warnings about leaving Iraq were just fear-mongering'. They will spin the truth until they honestly believe that only President Obama's withdrawal plan gave the Iraqi government the incentive they needed to stop dithering. They will talk about how US casualties have plummeted under President Obama's plan. They will gleefully tell all who will listen that they had their eyes on the real prize the whole time-capturing Osama Bin Laden. And I do mean capture, because to kill him would mean depriving a terrorist of his civil rights, which will clearly not be permissible under President Obama.
The spinning of the truth and the rewriting of history will start soon, unless conservatives decide to not let it happen.