President Bush has made it very clear he will not withdraw American troops from Iraq. If the Congress proposes any legislation to that effect, he will veto it. Congress can override a veto, but it takes a two-thirds majority vote in both Houses, 67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House, to do it.
While the Democrats control both Houses, they don't have enough votes to override a presidential veto without help from fellow Republicans. Sixteen Republicans in the Senate and 57 Republicans in the House must vote with the Democratic majority.
President Bush wants to pass the war on to his successor. If he can't claim success in Iraq, at least the failure can be attributed to someone else. It's a win-win situation for him: If he is replaced by a Republican, he and his party retain a certain degree of control; if he is replaced by a Democrat, what ever happens can be blamed on the other party.
All Bush has to do he keep his fellow Republicans in line for another 15 months and he's home free. But where does that leave the American public? What about Iraqi civilians?
With thousands of Americans dead, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, and billions of dollars squandered, we have a right to ask these questions without being called left-wing Bush bashers.
It's not Democrat vs Republican or liberal vs. conservative. It is not a question of loyalty. It is not a matter of honor, or perhaps it is: The honor of the U.S. people. We attacked a sovereign nation to depose a tyrant, but in doing so we destabilized that nation so badly the situation now endangers the whole region.
Whether one believes the war was justified or not, it was mismanaged from day one. It has put the United States into debt and alienated us from much of the world. All of this can be laid directly at the feet of George W. Bush and his inner circle.
The U.S. Congress, which is supposed to serve as a balance to presidential power, has proved inadequate for the job, and the American public, which is supposed to be an informed democracy, has allowed itself to be divided by patrician politics and manipulated by expensive media campaigns.
Now what? We can't precipitously withdraw without putting our own men and women in danger. We can't honorably abandon Iraqis who have worked for us at considerable risk to themselves and their families, but we can make it very clear to Iraq (and the world) that WE WILL LEAVE!
If the president won't do it, the Congress can, but only if it develops a certain amount of intestinal fortitude, and Congress won't develop this fortitude unless the American people demand it.
This doesn't mean Republicans should abandon their party. Quite the contrary, but they do have to break with an administration that has done incalculable damage to the party and to the country as a whole. The latest brouhaha over Blackwater, a private U.S. security service accused of indiscriminately killing Iraqi civilians, is just one more example of why you can't outsource a war.
Whatever the truth about Blackwater, the United States has suffered another black eye. The image of the U.S. government and the honor of the American public has been questioned one more time. The only way to change this is to repudiate the administration that first masterminded and then mismanaged the war.
The next president could easily be an anti-war Republican, but unless Republicans in Congress share this agenda and demonstrate support for bringing the troops home, whoever becomes president will have a hard time governing. This is why what happens now is still in GOP hands. The country is fed up with this war. Only the most obstinate believe it can still be won, but there is still a chance to do the right thing.
In politics, the rule is never apologize, never admit you're wrong, but any psychologist will tell you that this is the first step toward healing. This nation needs a lot of healing, and it isn't just the Republicans who need to apologize for their behavior.
A fearful public that has willingly relinquished our Constitutional freedoms in the face of terrorism has to assume its own share of the blame.
The next 15 months will be critical. If we don't move to end this war within this time frame, there may be no end in sight.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Originally published Sept. 28, 2007