The Associated Press quotes Sen. Dick Durbin as saying in Baghdad that American-led forces were "making some measurable progress, but it's slow going." And not enough to suit Durbin. "As our troops show some progress toward security, the government of this nation is moving in the opposite direction. This is really unsustainable with the American people," Durbin said in an interview with National Public Radio. Durbin is a hyperpartisan Democrat, as one might expect of a party whip in the Senate. And he seems to be preparing to support a withdrawal resolution or amendment after Gen. David Petraeus reports in mid-September. But it's significant that he feels the need to concede that the military is making progress and that the surge, at least to some extent, is working, as more Americans seem to believe.
Similar comments were being made, according to the Associated Press, by Sens. Carl Levin, Jack Reed, and Bob Casey. Levin is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Reed is a member of SASC who has joined Levin in sponsoring several Iraq proposals. Excerpts:
Levin, while saying military progress was being made, said the troop build-up could not be considered a success because its purpose was to make way for political reconciliation, and that hasn't happened.
Reed, a Rhode Island senator who visited Iraq last month, said there's been tactical momentum, but it "has yet to translate itself into real political momentum, which is the key, I think, to progress."
In a conference call with reporters, Casey said one could make a good argument that U.S. troops have won the war, then accused Iraqi politicians and the Bush administration of not matching the intensity of the troops.
You get the idea. Again, they're conceding that military progress is being made, but arguing that it doesn't matter much if the Iraqi parliament can't settle major issues. Most interesting of all is the comment of a Democratic freshman congressman who upset a Republican committee chairman.
California Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney had a different take. After visiting Iraq last month and visiting with Petraeus, McNerney said signs of progress led him to decide he'll be a little more flexible about when troops should be brought home.
"I'm more willing to work with finding a way forward to accommodate what the generals are saying," McNerney said.
The district McNerney represents is divided between the Central Valley, which is pretty Republican, and part of the San Francisco Bay area. It includes the San Ramon Valley, which is the most Republican part of the Bay Area—which is to say, it's mildly Democratic. McNerney's majority came almost entirely from the Bay Area part, and that's where he's going to have to look for his majority in 2008. He benefited in 2006 from Bay Area antiwar activists volunteering for his campaign. If he votes against a withdrawal proposal, they probably won't help him again—and may even try to find a primary opponent. Bottom line: when a Bay Area congressman is looking for a way to "accommodate what the generals are saying," that's news.