Democrats demonised for backing Bush in Iraq
By Alex Spillius in Washington | August 25, 2007
Two of the Democratic party’s most influential strategists have been transformed into hate figures of the American Left after daring to support President George W. Bush’s tactics in Iraq.
Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, military analysts at Washington’s liberal Brookings Institution, declared themselves as unlikely allies of Mr Bush when they wrote an article in the New York Times titled “A War We Might Just Win".
The article was a godsend to the Bush administration, which is embroiled in a struggle with the Democrat-controlled Congress to retain control of the war - the single most important issue for the president in his final 18 months in office.
The piece was written following an eight-day visit to Iraq by the authors. It concluded that Americans needed to understand “we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms”.
Mr Bush’s “surge” of 30,000 extra US troops was bearing fruit, with civilian fatality rates down and order returning to some parts of Baghdad, the authors said.
They also enthused about conditions in the town of Ramadi, a war zone just six months ago, where Sunni tribes have now turned against al-Qa’eda and co-operated with the American military.
The day after the article was published the vice-president Dick Cheney seized on it as being something positive written by “critics of war”.
It has since turned Mr O’Hanlon and Mr Pollack into objects of hate for some Democrats and in the liberal blogosphere. Salon.com accused them of “shameless pro-administration propaganda” and called their article a “rank deceit”.
Other critics said they ignored or under-played high casualty rates, sectarian cleansing, the power of militias and political stagnation.
Most significantly the emergence of Mr O’Hanlon and Mr Pollack as cheerleaders for the “surge” strategy proved that senior Democrats are unable to present a united front of opposition to the war.
Such was its impact that the presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the surge is “working” in it efforts to improve security, even if Iraq’s government was failing.
The political battlefield is heating up ahead of what is likely to be a mixed progress report from senior officials in Iraq next month. Mr Bush will nonetheless use it - and corroboration from other sources such as Brookings - to justify maintaining the surge and persuading wobbling Republicans not to back Democrat legislation for a timetable for withdrawal.
General Peter Pace, the outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was reportedly poised to urge Mr Bush to cut US force levels in Iraq by nearly half next year to ease the strain the war has placed on the military.
David Warner, a leading Republican senator, this week called for 5,000 troops out of 160,000 in Iraq to be sent home by Christmas, a suggestion rejected yesterday by a senior commander as a “giant step backwards”.
A formal report by the 16 US intelligence agencies has painted a grim assessment of Iraq’s future, warning the leadership is “unable to govern” effectively, but warned that a drawdown of US forces could increase sectarian violence.
Mr O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with 20 years’ experience, agrees that leaving too soon would be disastrous. He denied that his trip, funded and organised by the Pentagon, was a public relations stunt that he had fallen for, saying he and Mr Pollack conducted dozens of interviews with US and Iraqi officials, often without a “chaperone”, and were free to ask what they wanted.
“Our critics said were taking momentum away [from the anti-war lobby] just as it was building up. But we were merely at the leading edge of an argument that would have happened anyway,” he said.