Every dismal anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq has come to resemble the last, at least for anyone still listening to George W. Bush. So redundant were the president’s remarks that they scarcely registered on the front pages.

Each year he assures us that we are making progress, even if we don’t seem to have gotten anywhere except deeper into the sectarian quicksand. And each year he promises that we will see more such progress in future months, if only we possess the steely character required to send other people’s children to war.

On the invasion’s first anniversary, he noted, “There are still violent thugs and murderers in Iraq, and we’re dealing with them.” Back then, he mentioned the government’s interception of “a planning document” authored by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which complained: “Our enemy is growing stronger and his intelligence data are increasing day by day — this is suffocation.” Zarqawi was “getting the message,” Bush boasted. Being dead, Zarqawi can no longer get the message, but the war drags on.

On the second anniversary, he said, “Iraq’s progress toward political freedom has opened a new phase of our work there. We are focusing our efforts on training the Iraqi security forces. As they become more self-reliant and take on greater security responsibilities, America and its coalition partners will increasingly assume a supporting role. … The progress in the past year has been significant and we have a clear path forward.”

On the third anniversary, he conceded that the situation in Iraq might not look so great to the untrained eye. “With continued reports about the tense situation in parts of that country, it may seem difficult at times to understand how we can say that progress is being made.” He quickly pivoted to the “optimistic” outlook, however, “because slowly but surely our strategy is getting results. This month I’m giving a series of speeches to update the American people on that strategy. I’m discussing the progress we are making … . “

On the fourth anniversary this week, we are still making progress, of course. “There’s been good progress,” said the president, speaking of the latest effort to secure Baghdad, where he sees “hopeful signs.” Success will require “months, not days or weeks,” he warned.

But he didn’t seem to notice that the path of progress is going backward. Two years ago, he promised that the Iraqis were becoming “more self-reliant” in defending their own security. This year, he stressed that our troop escalation in the Iraqi capital “is still in the early stages, it’s still in the beginning stages. Fewer than half of the troop reinforcements we are sending have arrived in Baghdad.”

Hearing once more his dispirited bleats for “resolve” — which sound increasingly like an excuse to postpone withdrawal until 2009 — should make anyone long for a few words of honesty and sense. That is exactly what Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., provided in his response on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” which is worth quoting here.

“I think we all have to recognize that we’re not going to achieve a military solution in Iraq, that stability in Iraq is going to depend on political accommodations between the various parties — the Shiite, the Sunni, the Kurds,” said Obama. “We have got to redouble our diplomatic efforts, internally as well as externally. And that’s why I’ve put forward a bill in the Senate that would start bringing our combat troops home, beginning on May 1 of this year, with a target date of getting all combat troops out of Iraq by March 31 of next year.

“I don’t think there are any good options left in Iraq,” he continued. “There are bad options and worse options. It is my judgment — and I think it’s the judgment of most military and political experts — that the best we can hope for, at this point, is to make sure that we are seeing some sort of accommodation [among] the various factions. The only leverage we have to encourage those factions to start coming to the [negotiating] table is if we say we are not going to be there in an open-ended military commitment.”

In other words, we must use the threat of our own withdrawal to push the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government into serious negotiations with the Sunni insurgents (not including jihadists such as al-Qaida). Clearly, Sen. Obama has read and absorbed the Iraq Study Group report — and understands that this “bad option” is considerably better than the worse path of escalation.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer (www.observer.com).

© 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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