Recent snapshots from the casino wars:
It's a war, and it's the Middle East, so glad tidings can go sour and there are
never any guarantees. But for all the caveats, the news from Iraq has been
For months, observers have been crediting General David Petraeus's "surge" with
remarkable progress on the ground. That message has come not only from longtime
supporters of the war, but from some tough critics as well.
Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, analysts at the left-leaning Brookings
Institution, jolted Washington with their July 30 op-ed column, "A War We Just
Might Win." Eleven days later, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which had
long pronounced the war a misbegotten disaster, radically revised its view.
"The US military is more successful in Iraq than the world wants to believe,"
journalist Ullrich Fichtner reported in a detailed account. So much so that the
outcome the Bush administration "erroneously predicted before their invasion
that the troops would be greeted with candy and flowers could in fact still
More good news came just this week in a breakthrough announced by Iraq's top
Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish politicians. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,
President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, Vice President Adel
Abdul-Mahdi, and the Kurdish regional president, Massoud Barzani, are joining
forces on legislation to settle some of the thorniest issues bedeviling Iraqi
politics, including a national oil policy, an easing of de-Baathification, and
the release of certain detainees.
For most Americans, it goes without saying that positive developments in Iraq
are very welcome, and that victory would be even better. But not everyone feels
that way. Good news is bad news for much of the Democratic left, where
opposition to the war has become an emotional and political investment in
defeat. House majority whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina was asked by the
Washington Post what Democrats would think if Petraeus reports next month that
the war is going well. "That would be a real big problem for us," Clyburn
The intensity of the left's determination to abandon Iraq was reflected in the
reaction to a single line in Hillary Clinton's speech to the Veterans of
Foreign Wars last week. "We've begun to change tactics in Iraq," she said,
referring to the surge, "and in some areas, particularly al-Anbar province,
That mild comment instantly drew fire from Clinton's Democratic rivals. John
Edwards's campaign manager, David Bonior, condemned her "ill-advised statement"
and warned her against "undermining the effort in the Congress to end this
war." New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, another presidential hopeful, piled
on: "The surge is not working. I do not give President Bush the same credit
on Iraq that Hillary does." When Barack Obama addressed the veterans one day
later, he stuck to the defeatists' script. "Obama Sees a 'Complete Failure' in
Iraq," the New York Times headlined its report on Aug. 22.
Within 48 hours of her VFW appearance, Clinton was scurrying to toe the
all-is-lost line once again: "The surge was designed to give the Iraqi
government time to take steps to ensure a political solution. It has
failed..... We need to ... start getting out now."
Since 2002, Clinton has been all over the lot on Iraq. She defended George W.
Bush's claims on WMDs ("the intelligence from Bush 1 to Clinton to Bush 2 was
consistent"). She opposed setting a timetable for withdrawal ("I don't think
you should ever telegraph your intentions to the enemy"). She voted yes on
authorizing the war. She voted no on funding the troops. Her position, clearly,
is a moveable feast, and we likely haven't seen the last of her shape-shifting.
Clinton is hardly the only presidential candidate prepared to say whatever it
takes to get elected or to retreat under pressure from her party's hardliners.
But it is worth pointing out: There is a principled alternative.
Consider Representative Brain Baird of Washington, a liberal Democrat. He has
opposed the Iraq war from the outset, and still believes, as he wrote in a
Seattle Times column on Friday, that it "may be one of the worst foreign-policy
mistakes in the history of our nation." But having recently come to believe
that the new military strategy is working and a premature US withdrawal would
be disastrous, he is speaking out in support of staying the course. Naturally
he is being denounced on the left; one influential blogger calls him a "Bush
dog" and "Dick Cheney's trained monkey" and a crowd of angry antiwar
constituents berated him during a townhall meeting Monday night. ("We don't
care what your convictions are," said one. "You are here to represent us.") The
heat is unpleasant. But Baird is standing his ground.
That is what John F. Kennedy called a profile in courage, and it is troubling
that there are no such profiles among the Democrats running for president this
year. JFK was elected at a time when Americans could trust the party he led to
confront international threats with resolve. That changed after Vietnam, where
the Democratic left insisted on defeat and got its way, only to lose the
nation's trust on national security for a long time thereafter.
Today the left insists on defeat in Iraq. It beats up any Democrat who strays
off-message. It treats good news from the front as "a real big problem." It
advocates what JFK, in 1960, called "policies of retreat, defeat, and
weakness." Is that any way to win an election? In the short term, maybe. But
we're in the midst of a long-term war a war that Americans don't want to