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Time for Bush to change course

Published October 22, 2006


The only thing more grim than Republican poll numbers going into the November elections is the news out of Baghdad. The question is whether the resurgence of Democrats here at home and the insurgency in Iraq will finally force President Bush, stubborn as he is, to come to terms with reality?

It's time for the president to start listening to someone other than Cheney, Rumsfeld and neocon hawks.

It's time to listen to the American generals who are beginning to depart from the ever optimistic White House script and speak with candor about the worsening situation in Iraq. The effort by U.S. and Iraqi troops to secure Baghdad has faltered with a sharp increase in American combat deaths, U.S. commanders said last week. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV told reporters the soaring violence in the capital city is "disheartening." With events moving Iraq toward a tipping point, reporters in Iraq say some American officers are privately questioning whether the country can be salvaged.

It's time to listen to Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are openly expressing doubts about the administration's strategy and denouncing a corrupt Iraqi government that is either unwilling or unable to rein in the sectarian death squads within the Iraqi military. Bush said Friday he will ask his military advisers if a change in tactics is needed. What is required is not a change in tactics but a change in strategy.

"I don't believe we can continue based on an open-ended, unconditional presence," Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican from Maine, told the Washington Post last week. She said there is no question in her mind that there will be a change in the U.S. strategy in Iraq after the midterm elections, regardless of which party controls Congress.

It's time to listen to the majority of Americans who, according to the latest polls, have lost confidence in Bush's ability to conduct the war. The public doesn't want to stay the course in Iraq without knowing where the finish line is.

And it's time for the president to listen to Democrats, especially if they gain control of one or both houses of Congress. Contrary to Bush's scurrilous campaign attacks, Democrats don't want to cut and run. In fact, most Democrats appear to favor a phased withdrawal with no specific deadline but with clear markers laid down for what the Iraqi government must do if it expects continued U.S. support.

It's time for Bush to acknowledge that his strategy has failed and that his goal of making democracy bloom in the sands of Iraq is not going to be realized, at least not on his watch. Despite the bad news coming out of Iraq, the president says his resolve to win remains unshaken. He needs to redefine "victory" and to acknowledge that Iraq's internal problems are so complicated and poisonous they may not be subject to a military solution.

By the way, things are not going well in Afghanistan, either. The president who has stayed too long in Iraq apparently didn't stay long enough in Afghanistan, where a Taliban resurgence is gaining ground. British Gen. David Richards, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently told reporters the U.S.-led coalition made the mistake of adopting a "peacetime approach" too early. "The Taliban were defeated, and it looked all pretty hunky-dory," the general said. "We thought it was all done ... and didn't treat it as aggressively as, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have."

Maybe that's because Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld couldn't wait to unleash shock and awe in Iraq.

If Democrats sweep Republicans from power on Capitol Hill next month, the president will have a choice to make. He can either hunker down and refuse to change course, or he can seek bipartisan support for a new strategy that points toward an exit door. However, if Bush insists on staying the course, he will face the prospect of key Republican senators joining forces with Democrats to push back on Iraq policy. He could have a Republican insurgency on his hands.

So, Mr. President, what will it be? Deal or No Deal?

[Last modified October 22, 2006, 01:34:59]

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