Congress should propose and the president should appoint Colin Powell for a political and diplomatic mission to meet with parties in Iraq and seek a political breakthrough leading to a Cease-fire and political solution to end the Shi'ite-Sunni civil war.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair should appoint incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown to mobilize an international consortium to develop a substantial economic package that begins when a cease-fire takes effect.

While the status quo policy including the so-called compromises currently on the table promises war without end and carnage without hope, there is a better way that would appeal to the hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of Iraqis.

For proof that success can still be achieved in Iraq, one need only look to the historical precedents of Ireland, South Africa and El Salvador, when armed combatants ended their wars and joined the political process.

There are two wars in Iraq, both of which can be won, through completely different tactics.

There is the war against al Qaeda, which must be won through military victory, uniting America with patriotic Iraqis of all factions who oppose occupation by America, Iran, or al Qaeda.

There is the war pitting Shi'ites against Sunnis for dominance in post-occupation Iraq, which must be won through political agreements that end the sectarian war and unify Iraqis against the al Qaeda terrorists.

We can only achieve military victory in the first war, against al Qaeda, by achieving political victory that ends the second war, among Iraqis.

The current policy effectively means war without end, and effectively puts the United States on the side of the Shi'ite government and its allies among Shii'te militia and death squads, as well as Iran.

The current policy in the fifth year of this war continues to be a windfall for Iran, because it furthers the sectarian agenda of a Shi'ite government seeking a sectarian military victory, drenched in American blood, paid for with American money.

However, while it will not be easy, there is a plausible "victory in Iraq" scenario that achieves a political solution that ends the war among Iraqis through political victory, then wins the war against al Qaeda through military victory.

A catastrophic outcome is highly probable with the current policy, but is not inevitable if there is clarity about what exactly we are trying to do, and how exactly we can do it.

What we are trying to do should be this: a political solution among Iraqis leading to a cease-fire in the civil war, an end to the civil war, the creation of an all-Iraqi civic life based on reconciliation, and then the unity of patriotic Iraqis to win a military victory over al Qaeda terrorists using the sectarian war as breeding ground and training operation.

The impediment to this strategy is the Iraqi government and its sectarian allies willing to fight to the last American to achieve their sectarian victory.

Any policy, benchmarks, conditions or tactics only make sense if they are aimed at inducing the Shi'ite government to end its sectarian ambitions and seek a genuine reconciliation.

Any policy that gives the president the full appropriations without a new vote in Congress in coming months destroys any motivation the sectarian Iraqi government would have for domestic reconciliation. It would use our blood and money for its sectarian agenda; maneuvering Americans to kill its Sunni enemies while our casualties mount; buying time to consolidate its sectarian power and win its sectarian war.

The Iranians and Shi'ite sectarians are playing the president and his congressional supporters and enablers for suckers.

Why do you think they prefer a two-month vacation? Why do you think the Maliki government removes Iraqi generals who seek reconciliation and promote Iraqi generals who favor sectarian military victory? Why do you think Maliki creates a domestic intelligence power under Shi'ite domination?

This is what the Bush policy is supporting, enabling and promoting at the cost of 3,400 American lives — a figure that rises with every escalation and will continue until the policy is changed.

This is what congressional policy continues until there is a powerful change that makes it clear to Maliki and his sectarian war allies that either he seeks a political solution or our support will end.

This is why the second vote is important. It is the only powerful weapon in our arsenal to promote a political solution. If Bush gets his full appropriation the cycle will continue through the fall, through the next year, and at every stage a political solution will be harder and Bush will be back for more money with even more draconian talk of genocide and ethnic cleansing if we do not give him the whole thing, every time, ad infinitum.

If Congress stays on course to give Bush the whole escalation with benchmarks or with conditions made impotent through unilateral presidential waivers, two things happen.

First, the status quo policy will continue the status quo results; and second, popularity ratings for Congress will remain at disastrous Levels along with the president's because both continue the status quo policy the public wisely wants ended.

If we understand the imperative to pressure the Maliki government to reach out and put the full force and power of the United States behind a political solution, an outcome of political reconciliation will be hard, but possible.

It happened in the 1980s in El Salvador, Nicaragua, South Africa, Ireland and Lebanon, where the carnage was even worse than in Iraq today. It can happen again.

When I worked for the congressional leaders I was involved in war after war where political solutions seemed impossible, but ultimately worked. Seemingly intractable wars were ended in Nicaragua, El Salvador, South Africa and Ireland.

My mentor, the great diplomat Philip Habib, told me, when we were working on Central America, "war stories" about cease-fires he negotiated in places like Lebanon.

Ask any commander today, from Adm. Fallon and Gen. Petraeus to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and they unanimously agree that a best-case outcome is a political solution within Iraq, leading to military victory against al Qaeda.

They agree that internal negotiations among Iraqis and external negotiations with Syria and Iran should be placed on a high level and fast track to maximize the probability of success, and they agree that only on this basis is a "victory scenario" plausible.

The lesson of history is clear; it will be hard but it can be done. The lesson of the present is clear; the status quo is a road to war without end and carnage without hope. Victory is never defined or achieved. Its advocates are reduced to horror stories of what happens if their policy continues to fail.

Congress should approve funding for 90 days with a second vote in August to create maximum pressure on all parties, while we escalate the push for political and diplomatic victories. The value of benchmarks with a unilateral presidential waiver is nil, while the value of credible political and diplomatic initiatives, in the current window, are 100 percent.

Naming Colin Powell to seek political solutions within Iraq would unite military and diplomatic advocates and put the full force and power of the United States behind a political solution.

Repeat for emphasis: A dramatic action by the U.S. such as naming Powell to push for a cease-fire will pressure all sides and increase the odds for political reconciliation.

Naming Gordon Brown to initiate global support for economic initiatives would put the full force and power of the free world and the Gulf States, and their money, behind an inducement for reconciliation and alternative to the endless escalation that Britain under Brown will no longer support.

Understand: The reason Prince Harry is not being sent to combat is because the British government does not want to risk the prince being the last dead Brit for a policy it will no longer support.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqi people want the killing and carnage to end. They want their children to go to school without being murdered and they want their lives free of daily death and bloodshed and fear.

There is a better way, and that is to appeal to their hearts and minds, to their hopes and aspirations for a better life. It will be a hard road but far more promising than the status quo catastrophe.

There is a better way, with real hope of what reasonable people would call victory. It has happened before, and for the first time in five years, we should try it today.