At what point will President Bush finally grasp the enormous disaster that the neoconservatives, from Vice President Dick Cheney on down, have visited upon his presidency? Or, to put it numerically, just how does a president descend from a 92 percent approval rating one month after 9/11 — the highest of any president since modern polling began — to the two-thirds disapproval score that has stalked him through the last year, thanks to the Iraq debacle, without getting the message?

Two major polls released this week show that the vast majority of Americans grasp the salient lesson of the Iraq misadventure: “Winning” this war has nothing to do with winning the war on terrorism. Thus, the public overwhelmingly supports the congressional Democratic leadership’s demand that the administration begin concrete steps to extract U.S. troops from Iraq. This week’s New York Times/CBS poll found that two-thirds of those polled said that the war is “going badly” and that “the United States should reduce its forces in Iraq, or remove them altogether.” Meanwhile, a Washington Post/ABC survey reported that, “by a large margin, Americans trust the Democrats rather than the president to find a solution to a conflict that remains enormously unpopular.”

According to the Post poll, more than six in 10 Americans want Congress to make the final decision about when our troops come home. Even a majority of Republicans judge Bush to be too rigid to change course and, significantly, among those who either served in Iraq or had a close friend or relative who did, only 38 percent approve of Bush’s handling of the war. In an important rebuke to those Democrat “centrists” afraid to vigorously challenge Bush on the war, about half of those polled criticized the Democrats for doing “too little” to challenge Bush’s war policy. How much courage will it take for wavering Democrats and Republicans to come out forthrightly in favor of ending a war that the majority of Americans believe is not worth fighting?

At first, the public, driven by false claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida manufactured by the neocon cabal that dominated the administration, bought into Bush’s claims that the Iraq war was an essential battle in the war on terrorism. At a time when even respectable news organizations were spreading such falsehoods as unquestioned truths and most Democrats in Congress displayed the independence of mind of cheerleaders, it was no wonder that initial support for the Iraq war was nearly unanimous. Fully 90 percent of Americans backed Bush one week after the first bombs fell in a “shock and awe” campaign that neocon ideologues at the Pentagon were convinced would lead a terrorized population to embrace democracy and other purported Western values.

As Winston Churchill once observed, a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth puts its pants on. But the truth eventually does catch up, and that is the specter that now haunts our president. There is simply no plausible national security argument for the United States’ ongoing occupation of Iraq. That fact was driven home Tuesday when American and Iranian negotiators met for the second time in Baghdad at the insistence of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was quite clear that peace will not come without the Iranian government’s cooperation.

The harsh reality that the United States must now enlist the support of Iran, the “rogue nation” that Bush claims threatens us with nukes, which this very week was once again accused by the U.S. ambassador of supplying arms to Iraq’s anti-American Shiite militias, underscores the folly of this disastrous escapade. The regime change engineered by the neocons vastly extended the power of the regime housed in Tehran and will only intensify with each additional day of the U.S. occupation.

Yet, communication with Iran is a good thing, because Iranians at least have to live with the consequences of increased violence — as opposed to American politicians, who feel required only to muddle through to the next election. The Democrats and the few Republican dissidents are quite happy to make a show of their reservations about the war without actually ending it. The Democratic leadership in Congress is playing a risky game of pretending to be the party of peace without actually pursuing the budget-cutting measures that would force an end to the war.

While this opportunistic strategy may produce a temporary political advantage, it will be of slight comfort to the families of American soldiers killed and maimed in Iraq over the next 18 months, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of future Iraqi victims. Nor will it con a public that has turned solidly against this war and is determined to hold politicians responsible for ending it.

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