September. That's how much time they get. Give the administration, General Petraeus, and most importantly, the Iraqi government until September to straighten out Iraq or we start withdrawing by October.
General Petraeus told Congress on Wednesday that he will know whether the surge is working by September. Fair enough (not really, it's been four long years of these kind of empty promises, but let's call it fair enough for now). I think the Democrats should work out a compromise with Congressional Republicans after Bush's veto that they get until September to deliver on all their promises, otherwise we're out.
But the goals cannot be nebulous. There cannot be another six months, another last stand, another surge. This is last chance saloon. And here's why: If the Iraqi government has not made a political deal by then on sharing Iraqi oil revenue, bringing Sunnis back into government by ending the de-Baathification program and reforming local elections and the Iraqi constitution, then there is no hope for success anyway.
If the Iraqis don't strike a real deal between themselves, no surge in the world can keep Iraq secure and stable. You can pour in half the world's military and still not keep Iraq together because they will have made it obvious that they don't want to stay as one unified country.
But the administration claims they can make this happen. Okay, then you have until September to convince the Iraqi government to get every one of those deals done and then for security to improve substantially (something in the ballpark of civilian and military deaths down by 50% between now and then). If you can't get it done by then, you never will.
General Petraeus says that's all the time he needs to see if this working anyway. That's what all the commanders in the field say until they say they need six more months or Bush fires them and gets someone else to say they need six more months. So, here it is - the last six months. The new security plan in Iraq started on February 14, 2007. On September 1, 2007, it will be a little over six months. It's put up or shut up time.
Can the Republicans really disagree? Can they say they need more time than that? Can they really argue that our commitment to Iraq should be indefinite no matter what the Iraqi government does? Can they really say that we should accept no progress in the level of violence indefinitely? No way.
They will agree to this. Or they will all lose their jobs. This is perfectly reasonable. They have had far too many chances already, and the American people will be all out of patience by September. It would be political suicide for the Republicans to try to stretch this thing further if there isn't real progress by then.
And it's the Democrats job to make sure the goals put into the September compromise are real and tangible. No more slippery, loose talk. The Iraqis get specific deals done or our support is done. The violence is significantly down or we're done.
If they really do get a deal by the Iraqi government that is implemented by all sides and the violence goes down by 50%, then we will be on our way to helping Iraq straighten out the mess we made. Will the situation be hunky dory under those circumstances? No, of course not, but it will be a real start. We broke Iraq, and it is my fervent hope that we can help them fix it - if at all possible.
But if these deals are not in place by then, we will know for sure that the Iraqis have no intention of having real peace in the country. Then there's nothing more we can do to help them. Delaying our stay any longer under those circumstances would be irrelevant, and very likely counter-productive. To ask any more Americans to die for a cause that is hopeless is unconscionable, and ultimately unacceptable to the American people.
If any Republicans complain that this can't be done in six months, remind them it hasn't been six months. Soon, it will be four long years since President Bush declared "Mission Accomplished." They have had all the time in the world and they have only made the situation worse and worse through their unbelievable incompetence.
If they can't straighten it out by September or start redeployment by October, then there's going to be hell to pay, here at home. And it's going to be at the ballot box in 2008. We know it and they know it. That's why they have to make this deal.