A blue-ribbon rebuke

December 07, 2006

No magic solution. That's the essential truth of Iraq today. Robert M. Gates said it Tuesday when he was quizzed by a Senate committee considering his nomination as defense secretary. The Iraq Study Group said it yesterday, with the release of its long-anticipated report. We would suggest, in fact, that the slogan is a little too wordy, and would get deeper at the truth with some editing: No Solution.

That's not what the Iraq Study group, like any bipartisan panel of senior movers and shakers, was asked to come up with, though, and it has instead devised what is probably a sensible course to try, urging a heavy diplomatic effort and a steady if vaguely specified drawdown of U.S. combat troops.

There is nothing very revolutionary or unexpected in this - though the suggestion that the U.S. should speed up its exit rather than slow it down if the Iraqi government can't get itself in gear is a welcome one. There's a very good chance, nonetheless, that this approach won't work, or at least that it will be overtaken by events. (And this is acknowledged in the report, by the way.) Iraq is very rapidly unraveling.

Yet the release of this report still marks a fundamental moment in the history of the war. However unremarkable its tactical suggestions are, it removes with finality the idea that "victory" is the goal. The president may still reject the report and its premise - but no one else can after this, including Mr. Gates. The goal now is to bring this war to an end in the least costly way. Among the many benefits of that, the report points out, is that the U.S. could finally free up the resources it should be devoting to the task it faces in Afghanistan.

But the end in Iraq is likely to be very ugly. It may be uglier than what's happening there right now. There is, unfortunately, no avoiding it.

Members of Congress are calling on the president to endorse the report's conclusions, as he should. If he doesn't, it will call into question his ability to be an effective commander-in-chief. But no one should imagine that the U.S. can extricate itself from Iraq without causing a considerable amount of pain, both theoretical and actual, and opening the way to a distressing escalation of bloodshed, possibly involving other countries. Intelligent policies can help to keep those negatives within bounds; clearly, delay for the sake of delay is pointless.

The report of the Iraq Study Group makes for sad reading. The painfully obvious implication is that the war in Iraq has been a disastrous blunder in just about every way imaginable. And the consequences are still mounting.

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