In a land as ancient and complex as Iraq, change takes time. And compromise does not come easy when it can be interpreted as fatal weakness. So it is undoubtedly true, as President Bush and his advisers are fond of saying, that the political reconciliation clock in Baghdad is running behind the expectations clock in Washington. U.S. officials are now arguing for more time for the "surge" to work.
As the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings Tuesday on the nomination of Adm. Michael G. Mullen to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military news from Iraq certainly looked brighter. American casualties and Iraqi deaths are both down, and Mullen declared security to be "better - not great, but better."
So is the surge strategy working? Well, militarily, yes; politically, no. The administration sold the surge back in January by arguing that only by halting the escalating sectarian violence and hammering al-Qaida could the U.S. give Iraqi leaders the calm and time to work through their political problems.
Iraqis know well that U.S. patience has run out, but they say their political paralysis is more likely to be resolved in backrooms than on the floor of the parliament. Mullen expressed the hope that the Capitol Hill debate would pressure Iraqi politicians to compromise, while Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Mich., hoped U.S. military pressure would work. But the Bush administration hasn't explained how slowing Washington's disengagement clock would speed up Iraqi progress - or why any political progress that does occur justifies delay.
Whenever a U.S. president orders troops out of Iraq, it could take 16 months to bring them all home. Even by Baghdad standards, that's hardly hasty. It's past time to plan a strategic departure, with troop redeployments where necessary. The president needs to give Congress the realistic exit strategy he has so far been loath to provide.
- Los Angeles Times
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