What was anticipated in September, the retreat of the old bulls of the Republican Party from the Bush war policy, happened in June. The beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war is at hand.
"I rise today," said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana on Monday, "to offer observations on the continuing involvement of the United States in Iraq. . . . [O]ur course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital interests in the Middle East and beyond."
According to the six-term, ex-chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, three factors make it improbable the "surge" can succeed -- and imperative the United States redeploy its troops, out of combat and perhaps out of Iraq: political fragmentation in Iraq, the growing strain on the U.S. military and the crumbling support at home.
Lugar's stance provides cover for Republicans anxious to break and join the chorus for early withdrawal. Beyond Sen. John McCain, a few generals and some neoconservative commentators, no one is calling for more U.S. troops. The handwriting is on the wall.
"A course change should happen now," said Lugar. But if his diagnosis seems on target, his remedy lacks credulity.
The United States has four strategic goals in Iraq, says Lugar. Prevent creation of a safe haven for terrorists. Prevent sectarian war from spilling out into the broader Middle East. Prevent Iran's domination of the region. Limit the loss of U.S. credibility through the region and the world as a result of a failed mission in Iraq.
Lugar's recommended policy to secure these goals: "[A] down-sizing and redeployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions in Iraq and the Middle East."
Lugar is calling for what the Iraq Study Group recommended, a shift of U.S. combat brigades out of action and out of country, turning their duties over to the Iraqis.
Most Americans may concur and cheer Lugar. But what is hard to see is the connection between the goals Lugar declares are vital, and the policy course he proposes for securing them.
Those 150,000 U.S. troops are the most effective, if not the only reliable, units preventing all-out sectarian civil war and defending the government, the contractors, the aid workers and the Green Zone. If we draw them down, how secure will the Americans left behind, and the friends of America, be in Iraq? What is to prevent the enemy from launching Tet-style offensives in U.S.-abandoned sectors? When Tet occurred in Vietnam in 1968, we had 500,000 U.S troops to deal with it. It is really a time for truth.
After four years, 3,500 dead, 25,000 wounded and half a trillion dollars spent, the four strategic goals of Sen. Lugar have not only not been attained, they are receding. Removing U.S. troops may only advance the day that all are lost.
If the U.S. forces, the most effective in Iraq, have failed to eradicate the al Qaeda nests in Anbar, how does he suppose the Shia-dominated government and Iraqi army will succeed?
With the sectarian civil war near its height when a U.S. surge is underway, how will ending the surge and pulling out those troops cool, rather than unleash, the passions for killing?
As for Iran's domination of the Gulf, fear of that was a major argument made against going to war. If you smash the only Arab nation in the Gulf able to stand up to Persian Iran, overthrow its Sunni regime and introduce majority, i.e., Shia rule, how can Iran not be the beneficiary?
This war was not thought through. It was not only mismanaged, it was an historic strategic blunder to begin with.
Any U.S. war to overthrow Iran's enemies -- the Taliban in Kabul, Saddam and his Sunni Baathists in Baghdad -- cannot but result in making Iran more dominant in the Gulf when the Americans depart. By eliminating the counterweight to Iranian domination, we guaranteed that either we become that counterweight, or there is none.
As for preventing a loss of U.S. credibility in the region and the world, it is a little late for that. Bin Laden said Americans are weaker than Russians. They will not take the casualties. Was he wrong?
In his assessment of the Iraqi government, the cracking U.S. Army and the dwindling American will to sustain this war, Lugar is right. But no energetic diplomacy is going to save for this country what the best army in the world fighting four years could not hold.
The self-deceptions must end. When we draw down and pull out U.S. forces, the odds will rise steadily that this war ends as did the one in Southeast Asia -- with our friends slaughtered and our enemies triumphant. We may all hope not, but hope is a virtue, not a policy.