What we learned from The Surge

Last winter, Congress approved $70 billion in additional funding for our forces to continue fighting the war on terrorism. The money came, as usual, only after much political wrangling and bitter debate. Congress did the right thing and provided the resources. Besides the importance of keeping our service personnel safe in the war theater, there was another good reason: it is difficult to say no to success. And 2007 was, overall, a success for our troops in Iraq.

One year ago, U.S. Central Command characterized the situation in Iraq as "near chaos." The Army Times decried Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's strategy as a failure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to "change the course" in Iraq by ending the war. Withdrawing the troops was a common refrain. Then came The Surge.

In early January 2007, the American Enterprise Institute called for a "large surge in troops" for Iraq, as well as funding for reconstruction, job creation and political reform. Soon afterward, President Bush announced his "surge strategy," which The American Legion publicly endorsed, and more than 20,000 U.S. troops got deployment orders.

Disapproval rippled across Washington and beyond. Many gave the strategy a forecast for failure. Thankfully, the forecast was wrong.

Two military operations - Law & Order and Phantom Thunder - brought greater security and more peaceful conditions to Baghdad and Anbar province than had been seen since the beginning of the war. The Surge gave us the manpower to clear out insurgents, control neighborhoods and stick around to make sure the bad guys didn't return. By the end of 2007, the Iraqi people were once again walking their streets, going to markets, seeking employment, and providing more of their own security. When people feel safe in their own neighborhoods, good things happen. Stores open. Marketplaces buzz. Jobs are filled. Young men and women become less interested in dying for al-Qaeda and more interested in giving coalition troops information to help root out enemy forces.

The Surge has led to thousands of small victories across Iraq. They all add up to a big one: violence has dropped by some 60 percent since last June. In August, the militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army declared a ceasefire. Large numbers of Sunni insurgents began to support the coalition. And the flow of al-Qaeda operatives crossing into Iraq began to slow. By the end of November, the administration announced that 5,000 troops would soon be coming home.

It has worked. And because of that, Congress was left with no other reasonable choice but to fund our presence there for the next round, a round that features gradual withdrawal at a pace set by military leaders on the ground rather than politicians. To leave Iraq too soon is to doom 27 million people and undermine the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform. Our military leaders and our troops in Iraq know that the long-term solution is security. Following that, economic and political stability. These are the building blocks of democracy that seemed so distant a year ago and so possible today, thanks to a bold, confident and originally unpopular strategy in this war's history: a surge of strength in the midst of uncertainty. Therein lies a lesson that should guide the remainder of the war.