The Times continues to sound the trumpet that will never blow victory:
As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts
As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy.
Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains. At the same time, they are arguing that American casualties are still too high, that a quick withdrawal is the only way to end the war and that the so-called surge in additional troops has not paid off in political progress in Iraq.
But the changing situation suggests for the first time that the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military.
If security continues to improve, President Bush could become less of a drag on his party, too, and Republicans may have an easier time zeroing in on other issues, such as how the Democrats have proposed raising taxes in difficult economic times.
“The politics of Iraq are going to change dramatically in the general election, assuming Iraq continues to show some hopefulness,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who is a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s and a proponent of the military buildup. “If Iraq looks at least partly salvageable, it will be important to explain as a candidate how you would salvage it — how you would get our troops out and not lose the war. The Democrats need to be very careful with what they say and not hem themselves in.”
What are the odds we will have to endure yet another flip-flop by the leading Dems?
Neither Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama nor the other Democratic candidates have backed away from their original opposition to the troop escalation, and they all still favor a quick withdrawal from Iraq. But Mrs. Clinton, for one, has not said how quickly she would remove most combat forces from Iraq or how many she would leave there as president. Former Senator John Edwards, by contrast, has emphasized that he would remove all combat troops from the country, while Mr. Obama favors withdrawal at a rate of one to two brigades a month. Those plans stand in contrast to the latest American strategy of keeping most American combat brigades in Iraq but giving them an expanded role in training and supporting Iraqi forces.
These are parlous times for the "Victory is not an option" crowd.