On April 19, 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said what all Democrats were thinking at the time: The war in Iraq was lost.

“This war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday,” Reid said.

A prudent observer could easily have countered that Reid’s comments, at least regarding the surge, were a bit premature. The troop buildup wasn’t set to peak until July, and offensives using the new troops couldn’t start until then at the earliest.

Yet it was easy to follow Reid’s train of thought. The Democrats had just scored a resounding victory in the midterm elections, President Bush had made an unpopular decision to increase troop levels just months before — seemingly against all logic — and violence in Iraq had spiked. So with the wind at his back, Reid took a very small leap of faith.

He was in good company. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill.) were right with him, opposing the surge and promising to get all of the troops out of Iraq within 16 months … no matter what.

An unlikely Republican joined the chorus of criticism but called for a different approach. From the outset of the war, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) believed that the small footprint philosophy of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would lead to sectarian violence, and it certainly did. The Sunni-Shiite violence was so intense that Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Obama’s pick for vice president, decided the best solution was segregating Iraq’s three major ethnic groups — the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites — into three separate countries. Segregation didn’t work in the United States but supposedly could in Iraq.

Luckily for Iraqis, Bush had announced a surge of U.S. combat troops in January, a decision supported by McCain. It was a desperate act but one that had been called for repeatedly by the eventual Republican presidential nominee. Now, almost 16 months later, the opinion held by Reid, Pelosi and Obama could only, in the friendliest terms, be called an error in judgment.

So what do we have to show for this surge, long opposed by the Democratic leadership and long supported by McCain? Well, an 80-percent reduction in violence since July of last year, for starters. According to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, this July saw the lowest casualty totals for US troops (just 13) since the invasion began. But when the facts put Democrats in the politically untenable situation of declaring defeat in a time of progress, they jumped on a new bandwagon: the benchmark bandwagon.

The liberal Center for American Progress’s blog said it best in January: “The purpose of the surge was to provide the ‘breathing space’ for political reconciliation to occur. Yet over one year later, political progress has been scant, and what progress has been made is not durable.” Indeed, at the time, only 3 of 18 of the benchmarks set forth by Congress had been met.

Today 15 of the 18 have been met, and some of the unfulfilled benchmarks have been met in different ways. Though the Iraqi parliament has not passed an oil-sharing bill, oil revenues are being shared among Iraq’s provinces evenly, and production is nearly identical to what it was before the war. And remember the electricity problems that the media cried so much about? According to the Associated Press, the average Iraqi gets 3.3 hours more of electricity than they did under Saddam Hussein by the most ambitious pre-war calculations. More Iraqis have landlines and cell phones than before the war, and more have access to potable water than ever. Criticism that violence would skyrocket after surge troops pulled out has also been quieted, and troop levels are now near pre-surge levels.

Of course, it hasn’t been all peaches and cream in Iraq. There have been many deaths, much strife, mass exodus and refugee problems. But despite overwhelming criticism, McCain — not Bush — led this country on a path to victory in Iraq. After watching Obama challenge McCain on national security issues at the Democratic National Convention with the line, “If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the … judgment to serve as the next commander in chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have,”

I would expect that McCain, willingly and ably, will stand on his record of judgment.

Alex Prasad can be reached at atprasad@umich.edu.

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