Saturday, May 26, 2007

War Without End

NYT Editorial

Never mind how badly the war is going in Iraq. President Bush has been swaggering around like a victorious general because he cowed a wobbly coalition of Democrats into dropping their attempt to impose a time limit on his disastrous misadventure.

By week’s end, Mr. Bush was acting as though that bit of parliamentary strong-arming had left him free to ignore not just the Democrats, but also the vast majority of Americans, who want him to stop chasing illusions of victory and concentrate on how to stop the sacrifice of young Americans’ lives.

And, ever faithful to his illusions, Mr. Bush was insisting that he was the only person who understood the true enemy.

Speaking to graduates of the Coast Guard Academy, Mr. Bush declared that Al Qaeda is “public enemy No. 1” in Iraq and that “the terrorists’ goal in Iraq is to reignite sectarian violence and break support for the war here at home.” The next day, in the Rose Garden, Mr. Bush turned on a reporter who had the temerity to ask about Mr. Bush’s declining credibility with the public, declaring that Al Qaeda is “a threat to your children” and accusing him of naïvely ignoring the danger.

It’s upsetting to think that Mr. Bush believes the raging sectarian violence in Iraq awaits reigniting, or that he does not recognize that Americans’ support for the war broke down many bloody months ago. But we have grown accustomed to this president’s disconnect from reality and his habit of tilting at straw men, like Americans who don’t care about terrorism because they question his mismanagement of the war or don’t worry about what will happen after the United States withdraws, as it inevitably must.

The really disturbing thing about Mr. Bush’s comments is his painting of the war in Iraq as an obvious-to-everyone-but-the-wrongheaded fight between the United States and a young Iraqi democracy on one side, and Al Qaeda on the other. That fails to acknowledge that the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq is not a democracy and is at war with many of its own people. And it removes all pressure from the Iraqi leadership — and Mr. Bush — to halt the sectarian fighting and create a real democracy.

There is no doubt that organized Islamist terrorism — call it Al Qaeda or by any other name — is a dire threat. There is also no doubt that terrorists entered Iraq — mostly after the war began.

We, too, believe that Iraq has to be made as stable as possible so the United States can withdraw its troops without unleashing even more chaos and destruction. But Mr. Bush is not doing that and his version of reality only makes it more unlikely. The only solution lies with the Iraqi leaders, who have to stop their sectarian blood feud and make a real attempt to form a united government. That is their best chance to stabilize the country, allow the United States to withdraw and, yes, battle Al Qaeda.

The Democrats who called for imposing benchmarks for political progress on the Iraqis, combined with a withdrawal date for American soldiers, were trying to start that process. It’s a shame they could not summon the will and discipline to keep going, but we hope they have not given up. As disjointed as the Democrats have been, their approach makes far more sense than Mr. Bush’s denial of Iraq’s civil war and his war-without-end against terror.

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