EDITORIAL We can all stop hoping and pretending now: the facts are in. No matter what anyone right, left, or center says, no matter what the truth is on the ground, no matter how clear and powerful public opinion has become, President George W. Bush isn't going to change anything about the war in Iraq.
That's what we saw from the president's press conference with British prime minister Tony Blair on Dec. 7 and from his statements since. He's not going to start withdrawing troops, and he's not going to negotiate with other regional powers.
The Iraq Study Group report has its flaws. It talks about diplomatic discussions with Iran and Syria, but it stops short of describing the real reason the United States is bogged down in the Middle East (the lack of a coherent energy policy that doesn't rely on foreign oil). It suggests that the United States should leave the job of rebuilding Iraq to Iraqis but fails to state that the country responsible for all the problems should play a role in paying for its solutions. And it would leave thousands of US soldiers in Iraq as advisers for the long term, putting them in serious jeopardy.
Still, it's at least a dose of badly needed reality. The report acknowledges that the Bush administration's current policies have made an awful mess of Iraq, that the situation is deteriorating, and that continuing the current path isn't an acceptable option. And it recommends that all combat forces leave Iraq by 2008.
That such a broad-based, bipartisan panel would reach that conclusion unanimously isn't really that much of a surprise. Everyone with any sense in Washington and around the world these days agrees that the United States needs to set a timetable for withdrawal. Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist who initially supported the war and has long argued that some good could still come out of it, wrote Dec. 8 that the group's recommendations "will only have a chance of being effective if we go one notch further and set a fixed date — now — for Americans to leave Iraq." Even conservative syndicated columnist George Will noted the same day that "the deterioration is beyond much remediation."
As long as the United States retains combat troops in Iraq, they will be the target of sectarian violence and the focus of that war. When they leave, the Iraqis will have no obvious villain, and there might be an actual hope for a long-term resolution.
The notion of an all-out Kurd versus Shiite versus Sunni civil war isn't going to make anyone in Damascus or Tehran happy, since those two governments will be caught in the middle. And a clear statement from the United States that American troops will be leaving on a specific date not too far in the future is, the majority of experts agree, the only way to bring all the parties to the table for a serious and meaningful discussion.
And yet Bush and Dick Cheney remain alone, aloof, refusing to acknowledge that military victory in Iraq is utterly impossible and that the old mission of establishing a US client state in the Middle East will never be accomplished.
The death toll for US troops is approaching 3,000. The cost is running at $250 million a day. This simply can't be allowed to continue. If Bush and Cheney refuse to begin a withdrawal program, then Congress needs to act decisively on two fronts.
The first is to inform the president that under the Constitution, Congress has the sole power to declare war and this Congress will no longer pay for Bush's military adventure in Iraq.
But there's a larger problem here. Bush and Cheney have lied to the American people, taken us into war on the basis of fraudulent information, and violated their oaths of office. Back in January we called on Congress to begin debating articles of impeachment; the GOP-controlled House wasn't about to do that. But things are different now.