Both houses of Congress have now gone on record opposing Bush's dispatch of 21,500 more troops to Iraq. Yet neither house is willing to end U.S. involvement by cutting off funding for the war.
Transparently, this is not a strategy for victory. It is a hold-the-line, stay-the-course strategy until America concludes that the price in blood and treasure of averting defeat is too high, and demands that U.S. troops be brought home, no matter the consequences.
Absent a deus ex machina, we are on the road to defeat. The timing alone remains in doubt.
Colin Powell says we are losing the war. President Bush says we are not winning. If more troops are ruled out, stalemate seems the best outcome. Or do we think that when we depart, Nouri al-Maliki will succeed where Vietnam's President Thieu failed?
Bush is determined no defeat will happen on his watch. And he has the power to prevent Congress from forcing a withdrawal. He can ignore non-binding resolutions. He can veto laws that restrict or cut off funds for the war or the troops. A third of one house will surely sustain a Bush veto, until 2009.
Democrats, realizing what happened to their party when they tied Nixon's hands and cut off Saigon, and South Vietnam was overrun and Cambodia fell to the genocidal rule of Pol Pot, want to end U.S. involvement but not be held responsible for what follows. For what will surely follow is a crushing defeat for U.S. policy in the Middle East, a humanitarian disaster, and a wider, bloodier war.
Anyone believe Baghdad will be a happier and safer place when we are gone?
Paradoxically, while the U.S. invasion and smashing of the Iraqi regime, army, state and ruling party caused the war of succession, a U.S. withdrawal will be the starter pistol shot for the war to begin in earnest with all the contending parties in the region plunging in.
By dynamiting the Golden Temple at Samarra, the terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi ignited the Sunni-Shia war. But it was we well-intentioned Americans who ignited the Hobbesian war of all against all, by destroying all the old power centers in Iraq, without knowing how to build enduring and democratic new ones.
Yet if Bush-Cheney are unwilling to withdraw, and Democrats and a growing number of Republicans are unwilling to invest any more blood and treasure to achieve victory, what is the likely future -- for us at home?
As war deaths rise over the next 23 months, opposition to the war will grow, acrimony will grow, bitterness will grow, and recriminations will escalate. Republicans have already split over the surge, with the opponents being called cowards by their colleagues. Democrats will soon divide over whether to cut off funds. For Harry Reid cannot long hide the division in the Democratic caucus, and Nancy Pelosi and John Murtha are prepared to fight it out with fellow Democrats in the House.
A sure sign this war is unlikely to end well is the scavenger hunt in the War Party to fix responsibility for failure on anyone but themselves. In Vanity Fair, the "cakewalk" crowd renounces Rumsfeld and Bush. The war was an integral part of our brilliant strategy, they say. But we cannot be held responsible for the incompetence of those charged with carrying it out.
The John Edwards Democrats say: If only we had known then what we know now, we would never have voted for war. And they apologize. But questions remain unanswered. Why did you get it wrong and vote for Bush's war, when Russ Feingold, Ted Kennedy and half the Democratic Party got it right and voted no?
And if Edwards & Co. were fatally wrong on the critical vote of their careers, approving the greatest blunder in U.S. history, without doing due diligence, how are they qualified, and why should they be rewarded with the White House?
The McCain Republicans blame the failures on Rumsfeld for not stopping the looting in Baghdad, or on Paul Bremer for disbanding the Iraqi Army and purging the Baathists, or on the generals for fighting the war the wrong way, or on the Pentagon for not demanding the troops needed to win.
The White House is preparing a case that the war has gone badly because Syria and Iran have provided terrorists free passage into Iraq and the most lethal of the weapons killing Americans. And not only the U.S. naval and air buildup in the Gulf, but reports of attacks on the Republican Guard in the non-Persian, non-Shia regions of Iran suggest someone has decided that Tehran will pay a price in blood for meddling in Iraq.
The Iraq Study Group blames no one for the disaster, but urges that we turn around and get out, the idea being that if we cannot save Iraq, as least we can save the American establishment from a political civil war breaking out here in the USA.
The real regime crisis that is coming may be right here in River City.