By Pete Hegseth
“Iraq’s parliament has adopted legislation on the reinstatement of former Baath party supporters to government jobs.” (AP, 1/12/08)For anyone who truly understands the stakes in Iraq, the achievement of national “political benchmarks” has never been an effective metric of success. Sure, Iraqis passing laws at the national level is important, but not more important than neighborhood-level security and grassroots political progress.
I learned this the hard way in Samarra, Iraq. Absent strong local security forces and fair, representative government at the neighborhood level, local populations never felt “more secure,” no matter how much useless (or useful) legislation was passed at the national level. Iraqis need to see a better life in their neighborhood, not hear more promises from Baghdad.
And for the past six months — because of General Petraeus’s new counter-insurgency strategy and the courage of 165,000 Americans — Iraqis have seen hope (one might even say “audacious hope”), and they have responded. Bolstered by American commitment, and weary of al-Qaeda brutality, the Iraqi people — Sunni and Shia together in many areas — have started cooperating at the local level.
As a result, violence continues to plummet, with attacks throughout Iraq down 60 percent since June and civilian deaths down 75 percent from a year ago. Iraqis are returning home by the tens of thousands. The incoming flow of foreign fighters have been cut in half. And despite a “surge” of troops, American combat deaths are near all-time monthly lows in Iraq. This is all wonderful news.
All the while, the Defeat-o-cratic leadership in Congress (Reid, Pelosi, & co.) and the Defeat-o-cratic presidential candidates have done everything they can to deny — obvious — progress. I cite two very recent examples from the “clinging to defeat” caucus: First, four days ago Majority Leader Reid said in a statement, “As President Bush continues to cling stubbornly to his flawed strategy, al-Qaeda only grows stronger.” Tell that to al-Qaeda in Iraq, Mr. Majority Leader…those you can still find alive. And while a few defeated fighters may flee elsewhere, they have lost in Iraq. And losing is not an effective recruiting tool for jihadists.
Second, in a recent presidential debate, Senator Obama had the “audacity” to suggest that security improvements in Anbar Province were due to — you’re not going to believe this — the Democratic election gains in 2006! I’ve heard some twisted logic in my days, but that one takes the cake.
Apparently the Sunnis in Anbar were incentivized to rise up by the prospect of abandonment, and reacted accordingly. This sloppy — and overtly political — argument doesn’t pass the Counterinsurgency 101 test. Only when populations are empowered — through more security — can they take on the “occupiers” (read: al-Qaeda). When dealing with al-Qaeda, abandonment means slaughter and subjugation.
So, with their “defeat in Iraq” talking points in shambles (what happened to the “religious civil war with no end in sight” talking point?), this weekend’s news was a deathblow to defeatists. The Iraq parliament passed national de-Baathification legislation, and the New York Times printed it on the front page, which means it must be important, right?
For months the only argument the antiwar crowd could cling to was: “The surge has not brought about the national-level political progress it was intended to induce.” Ergo: We lose, bring ‘em home. While this argument requires a “willing suspension of disbelief” in light of recent improvements in Iraq, it was “technically” true.
The Iraqi parliament, flaws and all, came together — Sunni, Shia, and Kurd — to craft a law that relaxes restrictions on the right of former-members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party to fill government posts. The law will reinstate thousands of Baathists in government jobs from which they had been dismissed shortly after the war.
In short, less than five years after the fall of a genocidal Sunni dictator — who killed thousands of Shiites and Kurds — a democratically elected Shia government granted de-facto “amnesty” to former Baathist co-conspirators. Kind of makes our domestic illegal-immigration “amnesty” debate look silly, doesn’t it?
We should expect more progress in Iraq, although results will be mixed and the streets will not be quiet soon. But this groundbreaking settlement is a testament to the potential for political reconciliation, provided the security environment is stable enough to allow politicians to peek out from behind their sectarian divisions.
The Iraqi government still has a great deal left to achieve, but today they’ve shown us what real political reconciliation looks like. Democratic leaders in Congress — and on the campaign trail — should take a lesson from the Maliki government. Swallow your pride, admit you were wrong about the surge, and get behind our courageous military.
Some courageous Democrats will do just that, others will continue to trumpet MoveOn.org talking points. The members who embrace MoveOn should remember that the American people may not like the war in Iraq, but they hate losing. Now that we’re winning, they won’t stand for talk of defeat.
In the meantime, the real credit must go to the courageous leaders who had the conviction to commit to Iraq when the outlook was bleak. Thank you, President Bush. Thank you, General Petraeus. Thank you, Ambassador Crocker. Thank you, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Thank you to the 165,000 troops in Iraq. And thank you to the 3,921 fallen heroes of the Iraq war…your sacrifice was not in vain.
Yesterday we were losing in Iraq, today we are winning. Let us continue ... together.
— Lt. Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006, is executive director of Vets for Freedom.