It appears the Beltway bombing halt agreed upon at the Bush-Pelosi summit is over.
The incoming chairmen of the Senate's armed services and foreign affairs committees, Carl Levin and Joe Biden -- and Majority Leader Harry Reid -- say a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq will be their first priority. Troop redeployment, says Reid, "should start within the next few months."
White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton counters: "I don't think we're going to be receptive to the notion there's a fixed timetable at which we automatically pull out because that would be a true disaster for the Iraqi people."
John McCain says we need more troops to crush the Mahdi Army and militias, and achieve victory. If we set a deadline for withdrawal, said McCain, we risk a Saigon ending, with Americans being helicoptered off the roof of the U.S. embassy. McCain appears to be adopting the George Wallace stance of 1968 -- "Win, or Get Out!"
And so we come to the endgame in a war into which we were plunged by Bush Republicans and those neoconservatives now scurrying back to their think tanks, and the Clinton-Kerry-Edwards-Biden-Reid-Daschle Democrats, who voted Bush a blank check in October 2002 to get the war issue "out of the way" before the elections.
America has been horribly served by both parties. And as the Democrats have now captured Congress, they assume co-responsibility for the retreat from Mesopotamia. Which is as it should be.
While our leaders never thought through the probable result of invading an Arab nation that had not attacked us, we had best think through the probable results of a pullout in 2007.
We are being told that by giving the Iraqis a deadline, after which we start to withdraw, we will stiffen their spines to take up greater responsibility for their own country. But there is as great or greater a likelihood that a U.S. pullout will break their morale and spirit, that the Iraqi government and army, seeing Americans heading for the exit ramp, will collapse before an energized enemy, and Shias, Sunnis and Kurds will scramble for security and survival among their own.
Arabs are not ignorant of history. They know that when we pulled out of South Vietnam, a Democratic Congress cut off aid to the Saigon regime, and every Cambodian and Vietnamese who had cast his lot with us wound up dead, in a "re-education camp" or among the boat people in the South China Sea whose wives and children were routinely assaulted by Thai pirates.
In that first year of "peace" in Southeast Asia, 20 times as many Cambodians perished as all the Americans who died in 10 years of war.
In Iraq, a collapse of the government and army in the face of an American pullout, followed by a civil-sectarian war, the break-up of the country and a strategic debacle for the United States -- emboldening our enemies and imperiling our remaining friends in the Arab world -- is a real possibility.
Yet what Edmund Burke said remains true: "(N)o war can be long carried on against the will of the people." And the American people are losing, if they have not lost, the will to continue this war. They are weary of the daily killing and dying, and of the endless talk of "progress" when all they see is death. They believe the war was a mistake, and they want to come home.
Our hawkish elites bemoan the fact that Americans seem ready to give up on Iraq when U.S. casualties are not 10 percent of those we took in the Korean War. That is because they do not understand the nation.
Americans are not driven by some ideological vocation to reform mankind. We do not have the patience or perseverance of great imperial peoples. If an issue is not seen as vital to our own liberty and security, we will not fight long for some abstraction like democracy, self-determination or human rights.
It is a myth that we went to war to save the world from fascism. We went to war in 1941 because Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. That Hitler had overrun France, booted the British off the continent and invaded Stalin's empire was not a reason to send American boys across the ocean to die.
In 1990, Americans were not persuaded to throw Iraq out of Kuwait until Bush 1 got to talking about Saddam's nuclear weapons. Even after 9-11, Americans were skeptical of marching to Baghdad until we were told Saddam was building weapons of mass destruction and probably intended to use them on us. Americans have often had to be lied into war.
Democrats are probably reading the country right. Americans will not send added troops to Iraq, as McCain urges. They want out of this war and are willing to take the consequences.
But those consequences are going to be ugly and enduring. That is what happens to nations that commit historic blunders.