'Long War' Plan Short On Substance

Plan B is beginning to emerge -- the followup to the strategy of the "the surge," which is the current strategy. The president recently has been comparing the Iraq war with the Korean War. Both, he has suggested, are "long wars.'' The one in Korea technically continues, and American troops still are stationed there. Iraq also will be a long war. Some folks at the Pentagon whisper that the Army might start drawing down troops next year (just in time for the election!), but half of them or maybe only a third will remain in Iraq. Thus, there will be a timetable of a sort for withdrawing American troops, which will satisfy the public, but a refusal to give up, which will satisfy the president and his loyal followers.

This brilliant strategy is like all its predecessors, including the original "preemptive" slam-dunk of the invasion of Iraq, verbal legerdemain without any substance. The president and the men around him apparently think that by changing the words that describe the reality in Iraq, they can change the reality -- fooling the American people as they have fooled them for the last four years.

The reality is that the war was a lost cause from the day it started, a hasty, arrogant assumption that the mission would be accomplished in short order and that Iraq, with a little help from the United States, would emerge as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East. We did not send enough troops to achieve these goals, and we had no blueprint for Iraq after the war. This plan was folly and has created a fiasco. Plan B is no different. Neither will be Plan C, which will appear after September. They all share the basic notion that the war could have been won and still can be won.

The president appeals to the public to wait patiently for Gen. David Petraeus to return with a report on the success or failure of "the surge." It is the hapless general who must make a decision that only the president should make. Although the general is an honorable man, he is not likely to report a complete failure. The president, with the aid of some of the residual neo-cons who hang out around the White House, will announce the ''new strategy'': a continued "surge," a draw-down next year, and preparations for a continued presence in Iraq ''after the war.'' Nothing will have changed since the "shock and awe" slogans at the beginning of the war.

The Republican candidates will be under enormous pressure to support the president and to fudge on his commitment to a "long war." The presidential campaign will be shaped by the same issue that shaped the 2006 congressional election: Iraq. Try as they might, the Republicans will not be able to avoid the question of end it or continue it. One ought not, however, underestimate the ability of the Democrats to seize electoral defeat from the jaws of victory.

It's a melancholy picture. Even the remote possibility of the continuation of the war by a new president, to say nothing of a demand that the people endorse a "long war" in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, would put a strain on the American body politic, already rent by intense anger, that could tear the country apart.

The Bush administration has been a continuous fiasco, symbolized by the roadside bombs in Iraq and the rubble in New Orleans. The arrogance, incompetence, denial, spin, secrecy and appeal to fear, which have marked the last eight years, must be brought to a decisive and conclusive end.

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