Since the invasion of Iraq six years ago, more than 4,000 American servicemen and women have died in the line of duty. Every day, the mainstream media reminded the American people of the mounting casualties. During the presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama sharply criticized the policies of the Bush administration. Such places as Ramadi and Fallujah became synonymous with anarchy, mayhem and death. Each passing month, tens and in the worst months hundreds of U.S. war-related deaths were recorded.
It is not without significance that the month of March 2009 proved to be a milestone of sorts.
While even the loss of a single brave American soldier is one too many, within the context of an arduous campaign to rid Iraq of tyranny and establish democracy it bears mentioning that last month nine American military service personnel were killed in Iraq.
That's right, nine. Of these, five were from non-combat related events. Compare this to 65, 52, 36, 30, 75, and 37. Those were the number of March deaths in the previous six years, and it signifies a stunning and welcome turn of events.
It suggests also that the policy of "surge and stay the course" for building a self-sustainable Iraq is, has, and will continue to bear fruit.
In fact, the stability that is returning to Iraq, the result of the policies pursued by the Bush administration and excoriated by candidate Obama as failed and counterproductive, is allowing President Obama the luxury to draw down troop strength in Iraq and shift some to Afghanistan.
Certainly had Iraq been the basket case it was before the surge, with American interests threatened by the likes of al-Qaida in Iraq and Sheikh Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, President Obama could not have considered removing American forces from Iraq.
Now the persistence of the prior administration to see the long-term security objectives through in Iraq affords the president this option. This amounts to a noteworthy change in course by President Obama whose previous Iraq policy amounted to criticizing George Bush and a campaign promise to bring American troops home.
The very fact the president has retained and relied upon the top civilian and military officials who orchestrated the Iraq policies of his predecessor speaks volumes about what he must consider a process that is working. It is no coincidence that the only Cabinet holdover serving in this administration is Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appointed by President Bush in December 2006. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding general of the Multi-National Force-Iraq who implemented the surge strategy, is now commander of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) responsible for operations in 20 countries from Egypt to Pakistan, including Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
This is the same Gen. Petraeus who offered a cautiously upbeat assessment of progress in Iraq before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2007 and who was all but accused of lying by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton. At the same hearing then-Sen. Obama said "the time to end the surge and bring home our troops is now, not six months from now." Now, of course, President Obama remains reluctant to bring all U.S. soldiers home. Nothing illuminates reality like a successful election.
Our success in Iraq stands as a credit to the U.S. military members who imposed the policy on the front lines and daily put their lives at risk for the sake of peace and democracy. The president owes the enhanced security situation to the previous administration, although he may not acknowledge that.
J.C. Watts (JCWatts01@jcwatts.com) is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002.