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The war's endgame
Chicago Tribune
March 11, 2007

Most Americans have one central question about the war in Iraq: When will it end? President Bush insists that it won't end until there's a modicum of security in the country and the democratically elected government can defend itself.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it will end no later than Sept. 1, 2008.

That's the core of the plan that House Democrats are now advancing, with a vote possible before the end of the month. Unlike an earlier resolution that was all talk and no teeth, this bill is clear and powerful, a message to friend and foe in Iraq.

Under the new plan, the president would have to certify by July 1 of this year, and again by Oct. 1, that the Iraqi government is making progress toward securing the country, allocating its oil revenues and creating a fair system for amending its constitution.

If he certifies that such progress is being made, U.S. troops would not begin withdrawing until March 1, 2008. Redeployment would be complete by Sept. 1, 2008. If he could not, however, the timetable would move up. All U.S. combat troops would have to be out sooner. (A separate but similar Senate proposal--with a goal for troop redeployment of March 31, 2008--already seems to be dead.)

Democrats, though, have a problem: Some conservatives in their own party are balking at this bill, arguing that it would restrict the U.S. military. And that has House leaders in the unseemly position of trying to buy off Democratic votes by loading up the bill with pork-barrel spending.

Even if Democrats can buy off enough of their own members to pass this bill, Bush has signaled that he would veto it.

So House Democrats face a choice. They can press for legislation that is certain not to become law, or they can take the political risk of engaging with the White House on language that could become law. They would be wise to choose the latter. An agreement may be a long shot, but it would be in the best interest of the U.S.

U.S. forces are stepping up efforts in Iraq with the hope of stabilizing Baghdad. Bush has touted "progress" in recent days, though that's hard to judge because the administration still hasn't publicly detailed specific military, economic and political benchmarks for the Iraqis. Nor has the president said what will happen if the Iraqis fail to meet those goals. Americans deserve better answers.

Deadline or not, what the House plan won't do--can't do--is end U.S. responsibility for Iraq. The Democrats may force American troops out of Iraq on Sept. 1, 2008. But the U.S. will still have responsibility for what happens in Iraq after a U.S. military pullout. It's not a certainty that the Iraqi government will fall and that sectarian violence will overrun the country. But there's a good chance that conditions will worsen if the U.S. leaves before Baghdad is secured, before the government can stand on its own.

It is possible--perhaps not likely, but possible--that the White House and Congress could find agreement on a policy that puts pressure on Iraqi leaders without putting a straitjacket on U.S. field commanders.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune

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