In January, Gen. David Petraeus was unanimously confirmed by the Senate as the top American commander in Iraq. He and his troops are now on the battlefield pursuing a dramatically different strategy — one designed to prevail against enemies whose rallying cry is "Death to America!"
Gen. Petraeus both requires and deserves bipartisan support — including the power and flexibility to make decisions as he sees fit. The last thing he needs: 535 micromanagers thousands of miles away on Capitol Hill.
The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, confirmed by the Senate in March, also deserves a chance to do his job. He'll need to wheel and deal, coax and cajole, entice and threaten. It will only hobble him if Congress passes laws that tie his hands or force him to consult with lawyers before taking steps to promote America's national interests and give decent Iraqis a chance to live in security and freedom.
Benchmarks, measures of progress that can be demonstrated to the American people and discussed with members of Congress from both parties, can potentially be useful. But let's not link those benchmarks to inflexible or arbitrary deadlines based on political imperatives in Washington rather than realities in Iraq. Let's not tell our enemies how best to twist the United States into a knot from which retreat and defeat would provide the only escape.
On Wednesday, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said their goal is "to end this war." But the withdrawal of American forces will not accomplish that. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate, the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, concludes that if American troops leave Iraq prematurely, the consequences will be "a significant increase in the scale and scope" of the conflict.
On Tuesday, the president said that by the end of the summer we'll know whether Gen. Petraeus' strategy is making progress. We'll also know whether Ambassador Crocker is helping Iraqis find a way to live together and defend their fledgling freedom. Surely, we can give our military and diplomatic leaders a few more months to get their work done without undue interference.
The stakes are high: In Iraq today, we are fighting al-Qaeda's most lethal operatives and attempting to thwart Iran's imperialist ambitions. If we are defeated on this front, our enemies will celebrate — with justification. And then they will use Iraq's vast resources to prepare themselves for the battles to come.