Almost everyone in the Democratic Party, a large number of the remaining Republicans in the House and the Senate, and even many of the neo-cons who fairly revealed the vanity of their plans in that magazine, now regard the war as a mistake or concede that it was—either because it was based on a lie (which is true) or because it was badly executed (which is also true). In the most important sense, this doesn’t matter. No one except John McCain—and even he seems to be trying to back off—really believes in recycling the William Westmoreland answer in Vietnam of sending in more troops. That would just increase the violence. The question asked by a young John Kerry more than a third of a century ago echoes with renewed moral force: How do you tell some young American to be “the last man to die for a mistake?”
Democrats were elected, above all, to bring an end to this war. If it can be done in a bipartisan way that doesn’t sacrifice hundreds of our troops and thousands of Iraqis needlessly, the country will welcome it. But this would require not just a new policy, but a new Bush, one who recognized that he not only had the wrong Secretary of Defense but that it was wrong to invade, wrong to proclaim an open-ended commitment, and wrong in deed as well as word to “stay the course.” His so-called legacy can’t be redeemed by papering over the profound need for a reversal, not just a correction, in course.
So Democrats have an obligation not to settle for tokens or tinkering. There has already been an Iraq Study Group: it’s called the American people, and the verdict was rendered on November 7. The only acceptable answer is an orderly withdrawal, in a span of years not months, in a way that protects our troops as they re-deploy and that puts the Iraqis on notice that the American troops will not be a permanent safety net for their political squabbles and forces them to hammer out a political settlement. Otherwise, we’re headed, many more deaths from now, toward a last-minute, pell-mell evacuation from the embassy rooftop. No matter how any commission rationalizes, temporizes, or repackages—no matter how it bandages this bird—the Iraq war is one lame duck that will never fly.