Reporting for duty

February 11, 2007

The inability of the Senate to address the war in Iraq last week was in a way emblematic of the national predicament - no one likes this war, but every conceivable option for changing its course has the potential for disastrous consequences. On one level, the Senate tied itself up with political maneuvering, but on a deeper level it was fairly evident that the maneuvering was a way of avoiding unpalatable choices.

The war has made its own political reality, though, and the Senate is feeling the pressure to take up a resolution on Iraq - as indeed it should. Between the results of the November elections, which were as clear a repudiation of the war as could be imagined, and President Bush's decision to send in more troops, Congress has nowhere to hide. It must stand up and be counted.

The leaders of the House of Representatives, which was designed to be more responsive to the popular will, have recognized this. On Tuesday, the House will take up a resolution on the war - nonbinding, to be sure - and all 435 members will have an opportunity to speak on it. The debate isn't likely to be edifying, or even a debate at all, but it's a chance to go on the record, to create a record. The keepers of the Senate's more convoluted ways should pay attention.

It has been more than a week since the declassified portions of the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq were released. No one can read them and remain optimistic on the war. They describe layers of violence in Iraq, some of which can be classified as elements of a civil war. They portray a country that is cracking apart.

Two Marylanders have been killed in Iraq since that report came out: Marine Cpl. Jennifer Marie Parcell, 20, of Bel Air, and Navy Corpsman Manuel Ruiz Jr., 21, of Federalsburg. More than 30 other Americans have died in Iraq this month. The war demands to be addressed, and the toll continues, even as the Senate dodges its responsibility.

The resolutions are political statements, and necessary ones. They should lay the groundwork for the much harder work to follow - taking on the White House, and extricating America from this disastrous war.

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