Monday, July 16, 2007

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Deadline in Iraq - It's time to set a date to bring our troops home

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Deadline in Iraq - It's time to set a date to bring our troops home
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
July 16, 2007

Americans of all political leanings want to understand when our involvement in Iraq will end. We have waited patiently for the positive results the president has repeatedly promised. We have looked for improvements following shifts in military strategy, the approval of benchmarks, the last-ditch surge.

No matter how much wishful thinking President Bush indulged in last week in finding "a cause for optimism" in the White House report on progress in Iraq, Americans heard little to give them confidence that things are improving. The president should face reality and put before the American people a plan to conclude our direct involvement in Iraq. We need to understand the end game.

Are Iraq's political leaders any closer to resolving their deep, divisive differences? Are they any closer to providing security and basic services for the people? No, on both counts. There has been no real progress toward meeting eight of 18 crucial benchmarks.

There is, however, progress in Congress toward forcing Bush's hand. The Democratic-controlled House voted to require the United States to withdraw most combat troops from Iraq by April 1. Then two leading Republican senators, John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana, called for Bush to present a contingency plan for Iraq to Congress by Oct. 16.

Threatened with opposition from more Republicans, the president is pulling out all political stops to keep ahead of that trend. At his worst, he has resorted to recycling cheap scare tactics -- warning that the terrorist threat to Americans, on American soil, will increase dramatically the minute we pull soldiers from Iraq.

In lashing Congress for trying to "run the war," Bush might have been lashing Americans who expressed their ardent opposition to the war at the polls last November. He wants us to wait until Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker release their progress report on Iraq in September before reaching any conclusions. Our concern is if their findings don't jibe with his policy, the president will come up with more reasons for Americans to withhold judgment. To wait some more.

Some have argued that setting a deadline will give the enemy a target date, allowing the enemy to lie in wait. But not having a plan risks further inciting Americans against the war. It could lead an exasperated Congress to make rash ultimatums that would put soldiers more at risk than if the president initiated a rational plan now.

The president has had more than enough time to develop and articulate an exit strategy in Iraq. Everyone wants to minimize the mess we'll leave behind. If April 1 doesn't work for the president, what date will? How long does he envision that we'll have to stay? The answer can no longer be "indefinitely." The American people need a plan, and they need it now.


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