Democrats in denial
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Denial is the first stage of grieving. Democrats seem stuck there when it comes to the war in Iraq.
It's odd that his fellow Democrats are mourning success in Iraq, Sen. Joseph Lieberman said in a speech Nov. 8.
"Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving, or even that the progress has enabled us to begin drawing down our troops there," he said.
We can't possibly be winning in Iraq because 2007 has been the bloodiest year for U.S. troops there, sputtered a caller protesting my assertion that Iraq has been a catastrophe for al-Qaida.
The caller's point is both true, and irrelevant. U.S. casualties were higher in April 2007 than in any other month, and there was considerable fighting until about mid-August as U.S. troops drove al-Qaida from its strongholds. But violence has plunged since then. People are going out at night in Baghdad. Refugees are returning from abroad. The signs of progress are so many and so obvious that even The New York Times has begun to report them.
"Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February," wrote Times reporters Damien Cave and Alissa Rubin on Tuesday. "The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad's streets has plummeted to about five a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer, and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March."
Michael Yon is a former Green Beret turned freelance journalist. He's spent most of the war embedded with U.S. and British troops. While "mainstream" journalists cover the war from the safety of their hotel rooms, he's been where the action was.
"It's been a long time since I've seen any fighting," Mr. Yon said last week. "I can't remember my last shootout. The nightmare is ending."
According to the writer Michael Ledeen (whose son is a Marine officer serving in Iraq), an enlisted Marine in Fallujah complained recently to his officer: "There's nobody to shoot here, sir. If it's just going to be building schools and hospitals, that's what the Army is for, isn't it?"
It is the rule in war, rather than the exception, for friendly casualties to be highest on the eve of victory. In World War II we suffered the most casualties in 1944, the year we gained the upper hand over the Nazis and the Japanese. The bloodiest battle for us in that war -- Okinawa -- was the last. The Union crushed the Confederacy in 1864, the year in which Union troops suffered the most casualties. But for this caller, high casualties in April trump low casualties six months later.
Democratic political leaders are as deeply in denial as this benighted caller. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are making yet another effort to cut off funding for the war. At their debate in Las Vegas on Nov. 15, the Democratic presidential candidates pretended the surge hasn't happened.
Democrats have been enabled in their denial by a news media which has been reluctant to report the dramatically improving circumstances in Iraq. But that's changing. The New York Times has had positive stories two days in a row. The Los Angeles Times and Newsweek have noticed.
This is dismaying for Democrats because journalists are herd animals. When the bell cows point toward a new story line, the herd stampedes in that direction.
"The herd is likely to grow larger because the evidence of success in Baghdad and elsewhere is so palpable that reporters, regardless of their view of the war, were bound to acknowledge it at some point," said Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard.
So Democrats had better work their way through the denial phase of grief fast, because if they're saying in January what they've been saying in November, they'll look ridiculous -- or worse.
Democrats need to move on to acceptance, because denial has caused them to embrace policies that could lead them to grief at the polls next year.
Though victory in Iraq would deprive Democrats of an issue they were counting on, if they acknowledge they were wrong and move on, they wouldn't be hurt very much. Democrats do best when foreign policy isn't an issue. If war fears recede, the foremost issue on voters' minds next fall likely would be health care, on which Democrats have an advantage.
But Americans will hold it against Democrats if they keep trying to sabotage victory.
First Published November 25, 2007 12:00 am