Now comes the September of our discontent. Four and a half years after "Mission Accomplished" and eight months into the "surge," this was to be the month when we were to be told that we have turned a corner in Iraq. Instead, the Bush administration's report on progress in meeting 18 key benchmarks (a condition attached to the last Iraq funding bill) and independent reports reveal that little progress has been made. As Congress returns to the question of Iraq funding this week, this is the month we must finally come to terms with Iraq's grim realities.
After having spent $510 billion and with approximately 5,000 American soldiers and contractors and 80,000 Iraqi civilians killed, the simple reality is that Iraq is more violent and no closer to a stable government than a year ago; while even on the economic front, oil production and the Iraqi's standard of living have yet to return to pre-war levels.
This war of choice -- not necessity -- also has compromised our security in an increasingly dangerous world. Our military readiness has reached its lowest point since the Vietnam War and the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that there is a significant risk that the United States would not be able to quickly and fully respond to another foreign crisis. The National Guard's emergency response capabilities also have been significantly impaired. The fact that 88 percent of units are rated "not ready" was evident this spring when the Kansas National Guard lacked manpower and equipment needed to respond to tornado damage.
The risk of being unable to address another foreign crisis and the degradation of our military readiness were two of the three reasons the Iraq Study Group recommended against an opened-ended U.S. commitment in Iraq. The third reason was that such a presence would not provide the Iraqi government with "the incentive it needs to take the political action" required to quell sectarian violence.
Amidst these grim realities is one large uncertainty -- what would be the impact of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq? While some contend a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in its present state would be disastrous and lead to civil war, others claim that this is already occurring and will continue regardless of any troop withdrawal.
These are the grim realities of Iraq that seem to be unable to penetrate the shroud of delusion that covers the White House and many members of Congress. It appeared that President Bush was coming to terms with these realities when he responded to the mid-term elections by dumping the war's principal architect -- Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- and establishing the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. This proved to be mere lip service since Bush proceeded to ignore the recommendations of both the study group and his new Defense Secretary by advocating the surge and has conceded to author Robert Draper that he remains committed to a sustained troop presence well into the next administration.
Congress must face the reality that, while they have provided deference to the Commander-in-Chief's prerogative to plot military strategy, it has a duty to act when the Commander-in-Chief has no strategy at all or remains in a state of denial. The Democrats have given the president ample time and resources to demonstrate that we are on a path to success in Iraq. The reality is that, after losing more soldiers during the first six months of the surge than during the entire first year of the war, we are no closer to success than before.
In a war that has been defined by its fictions and false hopes -- from the presence of weapons of mass destruction to "Mission Accomplished" -- it is time that Congress finally summoned the courage to face its realities and bring an end to this fiasco. This debate should not be about empty slogans, but must address the high price we are paying in terms of blood and treasure and its impact on our national security every day in Iraq. The time to do so is not January or 2009, but now.
The Democrats should reach out to Republicans to see if a veto and filibuster would prove compromise can be reached. If the Republicans continue to prefer slogans over strategy and false optimism over results, the Democrats have a duty to the people who put them in power and the families of our troops to hold firm and even refuse funding if necessary. Democrats must remember that, now that they are in power, it is not just Republicans that voters will hold accountable for Iraq in November.
Currently, approximately 170,000 of our sons and daughters have had the courage to go to Iraq and now face the realities the White House so eagerly ignores. It is now time for the Democrats to find the courage to bring them home.
(originally published in Santa Monica Daily Press)