Facing Reality in Iraq

Every day of continued chaos in Iraq should be a reminder of the need to face reality and change course. Yesterday's release of the Iraq Study Group report should serve as another wake up call, as well as provide the maneuvering room - and the political cover - for Congress and the Bush administration to do what must be done.

I opposed this war from the very beginning. I take no pleasure in having my predictions of the scope of the disaster proven correct by events. Indeed, they were even worse than I imagined. The President has driven us into a cul-de-sac, and at this point the only questions are how long and how heavily we will continue to invest in this situation.

Ultimately, we will leave and, ultimately, it will be extraordinarily unpleasant, if not awful. The Bush administration's mismanagement has broken Iraq and the American public is not willing to allow the further sacrifice of our brave soldiers - who have done all that can be expected of them - and the waste of even more of our scarce resources, so in demand at home and in other places around the world.

This is now about making the best of a bad situation; we are going to leave Iraq before it's fixed. It will be painful for everybody: the innocent Iraqi victims who will get caught up in the maelstrom, as well as Americans who will be less safe for years, if not generations, to come.

Many people will spend the coming months grasping for straws that just won't work. Instead, we can only try to make this terrible situation no worse and hope that, at some point, it might become marginally better for both Americans and Iraqis. The costs of leaving are not yet fixed - they will be steep and they will be horrible, but, as Dr. Jessica Tuchman Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said to our House Democratic Caucus yesterday morning, we have a chance to influence just how steep and how horrible through our actions. By any measure, though, the short term is grim and the sooner we admit it the better.

I've shared my own ideas on how to make the best of this horrible situation, by bringing our troops home, engaging diplomatically with Iraq's neighbors and all parts of Iraqi society, and supporting the Iraqi people through reconstruction assistance geared towards locally oriented projects conducted by Iraqis. I'd certainly appreciate your thoughts in the comments.

While it's never too late for diplomacy, our diplomatic options are severely limited and the work will be hard and messy. The inability of this administration to talk to disagreeable people means that we only talk to them when we're forced to, which is usually the worst possible time and only once they have become disinclined to be even marginally accommodating. We must ensure that Congress does not continue to make things worse by tying the hands of the administration in the rare instances it finally gets around to diplomatic endeavors with countries, for instance, like Iran.

The Iraq Study Group's report, by endorsing the logic of withdrawal and diplomacy, offers a window of opportunity to make the best of a bad situation in the immediate future. For a president who has put politics above the welfare of the American people since day one, the Iraq Study Group provides the cover to finally do the right thing in a politically expedient fashion. Democrats in Congress should insist on it and hold President Bush accountable if he ignores this unique chance.

The sources available to me indicate that President Bush has demonstrated different mindsets in anticipation of the report's release, being more accommodating in private and obstinate in public. It will be critical to see which side the President demonstrates through his actions.

Action on Iraq needs to be measured in hours and days, not weeks and months. While the control of Congress is changing, the situation in the Middle East continues its downward spiral, becoming more complicated and dangerous by the day, not just in Baghdad but in Tehran, Jerusalem, Beirut and Damascus.

Congress and the President must face reality in Iraq and rise to the occasion.