At its convention this week, the Democratic Party pivoted in its critique of President Bush's war in Iraq, a turn that should now shift the tone of this election campaign in the remaining three months. Instead of focusing on mistakes of the past, Democrats promised to do better in fulfilling Mr. Bush's goal of creating a democratic Iraq that can help bring peace and freedom to the Middle East.
"We will get this done right," John Edwards, the vice presidential nominee, told the convention.
The challenge now set, the president has three months to show voters he can get it right in Iraq. But since the handover of limited sovereignty to Iraqis a month ago, it must be remembered this is not just a US responsibility. Iraq's future may now be determined more by Iraqis than by the US and its allies.
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim and CIA helpmate, seems to be making the right moves so far, even as he faces terrorist hostage-taking of foreign workers and almost daily killing of Iraqis associated with the government.
Tomorrow, for instance, Iraq's first step toward democracy begins when 1,000 people, chosen in caucuses, meet to select a 100-member National Council to advise the interim government and prepare for elections in January.
Mr. Allawi has traveled the region to ask Iraq's neighbors for help in securing borders and reducing the flow of foreign terrorists into Iraq. He's also won promises of nonmilitary assistance from Jordan and Egypt. Saudi Arabia has proposed that Muslim nations other than Iraq's immediate neighbors deploy troops in Iraq.
His defense minister has warned Iran that it will remain an enemy if it continues to meddle with Iraq's majority Shiite population.
At home, Allawi has co-opted a small Shiite insurgency led by rebel Moqtada al-Sadr. To isolate foreign terrorists, he's offered an amnesty to "nationalist" (mainly Sunni) terrorists. He's begun the trial of Saddam Hussein. And he's further built up the police, national guard, and Army.
It didn't help his efforts that the Philippines caved in to terrorist pressure and withdrew its forces in order to gain the release of a Filipino hostage. But it may also be that the increasing power of Iraq's security forces has made the terrorists even more desperate to act.
Allawi's successes or failures in coming weeks could influence the US election. If the violence doesn't subside by Nov. 2, and if Allawi is forced to put off Iraq's elections, then Democrats may have a point that they can do better. They've promised to boost the number of US troops in Iraq and believe they can persuade NATO to do more in Iraq than Bush. But even if a Kerry administration could do better, Allawi, his successor, and other civic-minded Iraqis will determine if Iraq becomes the beacon of hope in the Middle East, as both major US political parties now hope.