Many observers, left and right, have begun to take note of the gap between the Democrats' defeatist rhetoric on Iraq and the reality on the ground. Karl Rove observed in the Wall Street Journal last week that the Democrats' stubborn insistence that the surge has failed makes them look out of touch and, worse, as if they were rooting for America's defeat.
Rove threw in a canny piece of advice: "They'd be better off arguing success allows America to accelerate the return of our troops rather than appear to deny the progress those troops are making."
Why haven't the Democrats declared victory in Iraq and suggested now is the time to go home? The answer is that they have become obsessed with fighting the last war -- the last political war against George W. Bush.
In fact, they are so obsessed with proving Bush's malfeasance and mendacity that they cannot accept that he was right on the surge or that Iraq in any sense can be determined a success.
The reduction in U.S. causalities has deprived Democrats of the most obvious objection to the war. So they have shifted to complaining about the cost of the war. "For the cost of the war we could..." they begin, and then fill in the blank with the social program on which they would most have liked to have spent the money.
Their political dilemma is further complicated by the fact that Republicans have nominated the man who put all of his political chips on the surge and championed the policy that is now succeeding. Admitting "success" is a recognition of the wisdom and tenacity of not only the current president's policy, but also of their current opponent in the fight for the White House.
If they declared "victory" they would be declaring "John McCain's victory," and they certainly will not do that. Ever. The Democrats are left to hope against hope, and their country's interests, that things worsen again in Iraq and the surge proves not so successful after all.
BARRING THAT catastrophe, they are left to argue that the surge's success is really a "trap," obligating us to continue our troop commitment indefinitely. Thus, their obvious delight over (and willingness to twist the meaning of) McCain's remark about a potential "100 year" military presence in Iraq.
But if Americans are willing to listen for a paragraph or two, rather than a soundbite, they will understand that the "trap" is no more a trap than any of our other military commitments, so long as the level of violence in Iraq subsides.
As McCain has pointed out, Americans are mature enough to accept and in fact support our many ongoing military obligations around the world. What they were unwilling to support was a high level of American casualties and an absence of any strategy for reducing them.
So the Democrats have boxed themselves into rooting against victory in a war that their arch enemy Bush began and that their new opponent vows to win. Hillary Clinton promises to "win the war in Afghanistan and end the one in Iraq." The inconvenient truth is that the reasons for prevailing in Afghanistan apply equally in Iraq and the consequences of losing in Iraq would be just as dire as a defeat in Afghanistan.
For now she and the other Democrats have no other position they can advocate. To change course would mean that Bush and McCain were right and they were wrong about the surge's success. They therefore continue to tell us that all is lost and nothing has changed.
They have every right do so, of course. And voters have every right to pick a president who does not live in a political fantasyland.