Monday, July 30, 2007

Two Former Critics Say Iraq Is Looking Up

Written from Ashland, Ore.--

Two respected observers of the Iraq scene, critics of the Bush Administration in the past, write in a New York Times Op Ed Page article this morning that the situation in Iraq is showing signs of improvement. They describe U.S. military commander Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as "superb," and contend that he deserves more time to fulfill a mission in which he is showing considerable skill.

The piece by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, both of the Brookings Institution, says that after an eight-day visit to Iraq they do not see "victory" around the corner, but they do feel there is evidence the situation has been stabilized to some extent and that sustainable security may be at hand in most areas, including the north, Anbar and parts of Baghdad.

Also, they write that morale of U.S. troops appears, in contrast with some past months, to be high.

Such a view will not please New York Times Sunday columnist Frank Rich, who just this week kept up his dirge of criticism of the Bush Administration, extending it to Gen. Petraeus, who he charged is becoming too important. (Obviously, a significant success in Iraq would make Petraeus a hero in many quarters, just as Eisenhower and Grant became in past wars).

But if Petraeus is having some success, all Americans should be happy. There is, after all, little question that it would be better for us, not to mention the entire Middle East, if we were to prevail in Iraq, not lose, as some in Congress seem at times to wish. Petraeus told ABC News today, however, that if we are to prevail, the U.S. troop presence must be extended to 2009, past the end of Mr. Bush's term in office.

O'Hanlon and Pollack report, as have others in recent weeks, that Al-Qaeda seems now to have thoroughly disgusted many Iraqis with its brutal killings, suicide bombings and attempt to institute a rigid kind of Muslim religious control over what was, even under Saddam Hussein, a largely secularized country.

There do indeed also seem some signs, not in this column, but elsewhere that the extremists are beginning to draw the criticism and disdain of many in the Middle East and beyond.

It has not only been the Pope who has deplored, for example, the Taliban's kidnapping and threat to kill 22 South Korean hostages, including 18 women, in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the kidnapping and threats as unIslamic in a very blunt statement pointing out that killing innocent and women children is not in accord with historic precepts of Islam.

The Taliban has now several times, after killing one hostage, extended its deadline. There is little evidence, meanwhile, that the Afghan government is willing to repeat the error it made back in March, when it traded five Taliban captives for one Italian journalist who had been kidnapped.

In a New York Times essay Sunday in the newspaper's Book Review, by Samantha Powers of the Kennedy School at Harvard examining the War on Terror, and several recent books about it, Powers chastised Bush for mistakes and hyping certain aspects of the terrorist threat, but she also said, notably:

"The challenge now is to accept that just because George W. Bush hyped the threat does not mean the threat should be played down...If the United States is to reduce the terrorist threat (diminishing both the probability of attack and the likely scale of harm) the next President must do a far better job of improving the security of civilians abroad, discerning and exploiting fissures among our enemies, persuading our allies to share the burdens of tackling terrorism and strengthening ou capacity to withstand attacks at home."

Yes, Powers is still critical of Mr. Bush. But at least she is calling for dialogue in this country as to how we can unite against the enemies we face, and do a better job at prevailing.

This is a welcome attitude in a newspaper that has seemed terribly shrill at late, often wishing the President positive ill.

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