President Bush has won the Battle of September.
When he turns over the presidency on Jan. 20, 2009, there will likely be as many U.S. troops in Iraq as there were when Congress was elected to bring them home in November 2006.
That is the meaning of Gen. Petraeus' recommendation, adopted by President Bush, that 6,000 U.S. troops be home by Christmas and the surge of 30,000 ended by April. Come November 2008, there will likely still be 130,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Will this make America safer, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked. "I don't know," answered the general. An honest answer. None of us know.
The general did know, however, that "a premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences."
So we are trapped, fighting a war in which "victory" is not assured and perhaps not attainable -- to avert a strategic disaster and humanitarian catastrophe should we walk away.
While the posturing of the Democrats, using Petraeus as a foil for their frustration and rage, was appalling, it is understandable. For, as this writer warned the day Baghdad fell, this time, we really "hit the tar baby."
What has the war cost? Going on 3,800 U.S. dead and 28,000 wounded. More than 100,000 Iraqis are dead; 2 million, including most Christians and much of the professional class, have fled. Millions have been ethnically cleansed from neighborhoods where their families had lived for generations.
Once the most advanced country in the Arab world, Iraq has been devastated and is coming apart. Sectarian, civil and tribal war has broken out. Al-Qaida has a presence. And it is a fair prediction that when the Americans depart, they will have fought the longest war in their history, only to have replaced the Sunni dictatorship of Saddam Hussein with a Shia dictatorship aligned with Iran.
Across the region, the situation appears bleak. In Pakistan, al-Qaida has reconstituted itself. Bin Laden is sending out tapes. Gen. Musharraf, who rules a nation of 170 million with atom bombs, is floundering. The Taliban have made a comeback. As our allies have left or are leaving Iraq, including the Brits, so, too, the NATO allies in Afghanistan are wearying of the struggle.
In the United States, the war has taken its toll, as do all no-win wars. With the cost of the two wars closing in on $1 trillion, we are as divided as we were during Korea and Vietnam.
As Truman fell to 23 percent after firing Gen. MacArthur, and was drubbed in New Hampshire, and LBJ broken after Tet and dropped out, Bush has seen his support fall from near 90 percent at "Mission Accomplished" to near 30 percent. Approval of his war leadership is virtually nonexistent.
Gen. Petraeus is trusted; his commander-in-chief is not.
To the cost of our dead and wounded must be added the near-breaking of the U.S. Army, the estrangement of our allies and the pandemic hatred of America across the Arab world.
As for the "cakewalk" crowd that accused opponents of the war of lacking in patriotism, they never repented their demagoguery. Despite the pre-invasion propaganda they pumped out about Saddam's awesome weapons and ties to 9-11, or their assurances that U.S. troops would be welcomed with candy and flowers, like Paris in '44, and their prediction that a democracy would arise in Iraq to which Islamic nations would look as a model, they have never been called to account.
Now they are back with a new enemy for America to attack.
This time the target is Tehran -- and once again, they have the ear of this most ideological and unreflective of presidents.
Speaking to the American Legion, Bush used rhetoric against Iran equal in bellicosity to anything he used on Iraq before invading.
Iran "is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism." Iran "funds terrorist groups like Hamas. ... Iran is sending arms to the Taliban." Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology threatens to put the Middle East and Gulf "under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust."
As Bush ratchets up the rhetoric, Russia, China and, reportedly, Germany are balking at new U.N. sanctions. That leaves Bush only the military option if he wishes to effect the nuclear castration of Iran. And Gen. Petraeus just provided him the rationale.
"It is increasingly apparent," said Petraeus, "that Iran, through the use of the Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi Special Groups into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq."
Petraeus' charge that Iran is fighting a "proxy war" against America comports with the new War Party propaganda line that we have been at war with Iran since 1979 and Bush needs no authorization from Congress to fight it more aggressively.
Congress gave Bush a blank check for the Iraq war. Any chance Congress will at least insist the administration come to Capitol Hill to make the case for the next war, on Iran, before Bush launches it? Probably not.