Iraq intrudes

November 02, 2006

Iraq is rapidly disintegrating and Republicans are suddenly outdoing themselves trying to imply that their hearts are in the right place on this war and they're prepared to do what needs to be done. No specifics, of course, but that doesn't really matter - because their credibility on this is in tatters anyway.

October was the deadliest month for American troops since January 2005, when the typical monthly toll was elevated by a plane crash. A Pentagon assessment reported in The New York Times says the country is slipping toward chaos with each passing week. The Iraqi prime minister told the U.S. Army to end its blockade of the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, and when the troops were pulled back, there was dancing in the streets by the district's Shiite residents. Sunnis say they now expect the Shiite death squads based in Sadr City to resume their marauding forays throughout Baghdad.

The American crackdown on Baghdad was supposed to put a damper on the violence, which perhaps coincidentally would have made it easier for Republican candidates to ignore Iraq as the election approaches. That was certainly what the candidates had in mind. But things didn't work out. There wasn't some minimal level of acceptable mayhem that could be sustained, much as that has seemed to be the administration's policy for the past year or so. Events in Iraq have taken on a dynamic of their own.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele's performance on Meet the Press Sunday was particularly illustrative of the Republicans' predicament. "What we have done, ostensibly, for the last three years, is slowly march towards nothing," the Senate candidate said. OK - there's not much actual meaning to work with there, but it sounds like his head isn't in the sand. He also said: "Look, if the Iraqi people don't want this, if they're, if they're, if they are content to have this internal strife, they want civil war, they want this, this terrorist beachhead to be formed, then we will have to re-evaluate our policy." Now that's a peculiar way to put it; he seems to be saying that if the Iraqis want to go around killing each other, we should let them do it.

But he also said that given what he knows today, he still would have supported going to war in the first place; he said it has been worth it to the extent that it has been an exercise in establishing democracy. This is astonishing - oblivious, wrongheaded, and a muddle besides.

Congress needs clearer minds than this if it's going to deal sensibly with the tragedy of Iraq.

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