Sacramento Bee: There are no options for a graceful exit
Sacramento Bee
July 15, 2007

Three significant events happened last week regarding U.S. policy in Iraq.

First, the president issued a preliminary report required by Congress on progress in Iraq. It offers unwarranted optimism and no adjustments to Bush's current strategy. It states that the "overall trajectory" has "begun to stabilize" compared to the "deteriorating trajectory" in 2006. But, the administration notes, none of 18 benchmarks has been reached. In eight, "satisfactory" progress has been made; in 10, only "unsatisfactory" or "mixed" progress.

Second was the 223-201 vote in the House in favor of a bill (HR 2956) to require U.S. combat forces to start leaving Iraq within 120 days. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she will bring back similar bills "as often as necessary, hopefully with an increasing level of support from our Republican colleagues, until pressure from the American people causes the president to change his mind and change his policy."

Third, Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., have drafted legislation that admits reality: A "unified, pluralist, democratic government" is "not likely to be achieved in the near future" in Iraq, and the U.S. military cannot "interpose itself indefinitely between sectarian factions." It rejects a "poorly planned or precipitous" pullout, but requires Bush to come up with a plan by Oct. 16 to keep U.S. troops from "policing the civil strife or sectarian violence in Iraq" and focus instead on protecting Iraq's borders, targeting terrorists and defending U.S. assets. Implementation would begin by Dec. 31.

The fate of this proposal is uncertain, but it is clear that a growing majority in Congress sees that we are no closer to Bush's goal of creating a stable, peaceful, democratic Iraq than we were four years ago -- and that the president's goal is simply unrealistic. Iraq has become a failed state, mired in a civil war that mixes sectarian and anti-occupation violence with political assassinations, tribal vendettas and criminal gangs.

In these circumstances, as James Fearon of Stanford University wrote in the March/April edition of Foreign Affairs, "U.S. military intervention in Iraq is thus unlikely to produce a government that can survive by itself whether the troops stay 10 more months are 10 more years."

There are no options for a graceful exit. The choice is among unpalatable alternatives. Republicans and Democrats in Congress increasingly understand this. The problem is that President Bush still doesn't, and he is the one who must do the planning for a safe, orderly disengagement.

The nation has faced such distasteful choices before. Surveying the options facing the United States in Vietnam, George Kennan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1966: "(T)here is more respect to be won in the opinion of this world by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant and unpromising objectives."

For the moment, Bush continues to inflexibly pursue the same course in Iraq, while Congress is moving closer to a bipartisan veto-proof majority -- 60 in the Senate and 261 in the House -- to change course for him. The president's best course is to act resolutely and courageously to find a way out of Iraq, with Congress as his partner.

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