Gen. David Petraeus' appearance before Congress this week demonstrated two facts.
First, over the past months his "surge" strategy has dramatically changed for the better the lives of many, if not most, Iraqis. Second, most congressional Democrats, including the two presidential candidates, have barely changed at all. While reluctantly acknowledging some improved conditions, they still insist on a cut-and-run timetable to exit troops from Iraq as soon as possible.
One marvels at Petraeus' patience and that of U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker as they tried to explain for the umpteenth time the catastrophic consequences of such a policy. Start with the notion that it makes no sense to quit a war that we're winning. Or to change a strategy that's working.
Yes, the gains have been, in Petraeus' words, "fragile." But they are real and a change in war strategy, along the lines Democrat doves insist on, could undo all the progress that's been made -- and that more than 4,000 American troops have given their lives for.
That progress includes dealing numerous battlefield defeats on al-Qaida, and greatly diminishing their influence in Iraq. U.S. and coalition troops also have stabilized much of the country, begun to strengthen Iraqi security forces and are midwifing a process of political reconciliation at the grass-roots level.
All this could quickly unravel if there's a precipitous troop pullout. The enemy would view the pullout as retreat-and-surrender -- proving, in their eyes, that Americans don't have the stomach to stick out a long war, even one that they're winning.
The withdrawal timetable would also signal to al-Qaida and other enemies of peace -- particularly the Iranian mullahs -- that they need only wait out the timetable to win a war that they were losing. Why make it easy for them?
They seek to make the surge and its U.S. supporters, especially John McCain, look as bad as possible in the months leading up to the election. So watch for a drip-by-drip offensive by Muslim terrorists and their state sponsors in an effort to get a less assertive U.S. president, much as they used the bombing in Madrid to get regime change in Spain.
Even so, Democratic doves stubbornly play into terrorists' hands by claiming that a timed withdrawal would put pressure on Iraq's leaders to come together and make peace. That's a fallacy and we suspect they know it too. They're only saying that to win votes from their far left, peace-at-any-price constituency.
A much more likely outcome of a hasty troop pullout would be chaos, civil war and eventual domination by al-Qaida and Iran, not only in Iraq, but throughout most of the Mideast. Nothing could be worse for U.S. and Western interests in that part of the world.
Having said that, Democrats and some Republicans, were certainly on solid ground when they criticized Iraq's fledgling government, which is awash in tsunami sized oil revenues, for not picking up more of the multibillion-dollar war tab.
Indeed, at the outset of the five-year-old war, the Bush administration said Iraq's oil revenues would pay for just about all of it. In fact, they've paid for barely any of it. That must change.
It's time for Iraq to begin paying its own way, and it should start by subsidizing the soaring costs of diesel and fuel that U.S. troops need to keep their motorized equipment rolling. There's no good reason why American taxpayers should continue footing as much of the financial costs of this war as they have been.