Democrats: Work to Get Us Out of Iraq ... or Else!

Let me try and make something clear to the Democratic members of the House and Senate. There's a world of hurt coming your way, and time is running out. On Iraq, there are no more Friedman Units. There are no more acceptable six month windows to see if the same "plan", called a different name, will produce different results.

The situation in Iraq continues to decay; the pressures on our armed forces and, especially, reserve forces continue to edge closer to the breaking point; our troops continue to be put in harm's way on the off chance not that a "plan" will work, but that an in-country miracle will occur.

The Bush administration has, in planning and execution of the Iraq war, failed at every turn, and on every level. There is no current plan, only a handful of adjusted troop rotations that we are now calling a "surge", even while our primary ally sends troops home. The military itself recognizes that the number of troops provided is completely insufficient for the task.

The administration, fearing being tarred with a failed and unnecessary war, has determined that the only way to avoid having the war be branded as failure after it ends is to simply make sure, for as long as possible, that it does not end. Large segments of the Republican Party, similarly fearing the political ramifications of failure more than they value either American or Iraqi lives, doesn't give a damn to either lead or follow. Both will block any attempt at a plan. Tough beans.

As I wrote last week, we all know that there are no good answers here. The point is not to come up with a be-all, end-all Iraqi plan this week or next to shove down the administration's throat. The point is to start the plan. The point is to lead. The most absolutely critical thing, right here, right now, is to begin limiting the ongoing damage.

No more extendings of already extended tours of duty. No more telling reservists that in exchange for the patriotism of signing up to defend their country in times of dire need, they will now put their civilian lives on hold for the indefinite future, until the nebulous end of the unending "war on terror" itself. No more rationing of equipment because the political cowardice of the planners of this war makes budgeting for that equipment far more politically problematic than simply pretending the problem doesn't exist.

The Murtha plan, in that it addresses exactly these problems, is an entirely reasonable first approach. If we do not have the military capability to end the war on our terms, than at least we can make sure the war does not end our military capability on its terms -- a quagmire with no end in site, with troop deaths that are marked against no particular objective other than maintaining the status quo.

Stopping the metaphorical and literal bleeding of our reserve forces is essential. Ensuring that what troops are there are at the least properly equipped and properly trainedbefore entering a war zone is not merely essential, but so blindingly, thunderingly, head-splittingly obvious as to bring generational shame on anyone who thinks differently. Only a coward, a fool, or a sociopath would vote against it.

If we cannot replenish our troops and equipment at the rate needed to sustain troop levels, then the answer is not to reduce their training, and send them anyway. The answer is not to refuse to provide them proper equipment, and send them anyway. If any lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, wants to have that debate with America, then bring that debate on, and we shall have it, in full public view, with cameras rolling, and we shall show that debate: well-dressed cowards blustering about the needed extraordinary sacrifices of others.

There are no good ways out of Iraq: every path is dangerous. That is precisely why so many experts shuddered at the long-term damage of this "preemptive" war. There are no good answers, and events on the ground may dictate altering any proposed plan three months from now, or six months from now, or a year from now -- a shocking concept lost on the Bush administration these last few years.

Fine, then: alter it when the time comes. It is not necessary to end the war tomorrow, it is necessary to do what the Bush administration is entirely incapable of, which is to define how to end it, and start working towards that goal.

We do not know what the next year will bring, but we know how to start getting where we know the endgame of Iraq will eventually go, and the most essential task we currently have to to ensure that no more lives than necessary go towards the political cowardice of the current institutionalized quagmire. We must "support the troops", indeed -- and that means respecting the value of their lives not only when they have died, but when they are alive as well.

It is not currently likely that there is political will in the House and Senate for drawing down the troops to zero. Fine: then start reducing them by half, or a third. All reasonable military plans for a remotely stable drawdown may be phased and nuanced, taking a year or longer to implement. Fine: then start presenting them, and choose between them. Perhaps there will continue to be several tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, regardless of any drawdown: given that the Bush administration stupidly reduced all capabilities for Iraq, as a nation, to defend itself from outside forces, that might very well be necessary. So be it, for the time being -- as long as the process of detanglement starts. In the end, what people really care about is separating American forces from an escalating religious and civil war, and bringing them home. That is the objective. The rest is tactics.

We all know the difficulties here. The American people will tolerate difficulties. They will tolerate setbacks. But they will not tolerate an abandonment of these political duties, or infighting, or for the troops to continue to be used as political shields so that no politician need make the hard decisions or need take the hard positions.

We are surrounded by political figures in all parties unwilling to make political sacrifices a hundredth as difficult as the sacrifices we expect of the men and women who serve in our military, and in such a time as this, political courage is not optional, it is flatly and unequivocally expected. It is required, and if it is not forthcoming, then the wrath of the American public will grow, and quickly.

Quit jockeying for position among yourselves. Quit expecting ultraconservative apologists to offer anything more than plans to get more people killed and call it "progress". Quit expecting anything but another two years of incompetent buffoonery from the Bush administration. Quit expecting bipartisanship. Quit expecting miracles that haven't come for three years, and aren't just over the horizon now. And quit expecting patience.

You've got weeks, not months. Within the next two weeks, people are going to begin figuring out who's blocking what, and talking about it. Within a few weeks after that, there are going to be be explorations of all the Senators and House members who are willing to keep troops in harm's way without a plan. And within two months, those leaders are going to be marked as apologists or worse, and the same fire that rained down on Republicans and on Joe Lieberman last election cycle from an American public deeply,deeply angry about the conduct of the war will begin to rain down on you, and there won't be enough talking points in the world to absolve or defend you.

You have no idea how much raw fury there is out there, just under the surface. And all the "Democratic apologists" like me are on our very last ounce of patience, and all the grassroots supporters have torches lit and and at the ready, and all the Democrats and Republicans in your district are watching to see whether you're really different from the Republicans or not, and all the troops in Iraq are waiting to see if you can provide an ounce of leadership.

Fix it. Now.


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