In the acrid debate over Iraq, the president’s supporters will say anything. They will question the patriotism of those who disagree with “staying the course.” They will insinuate cowardice on the part of those who would “cut and run.” Even though they themselves may have avoided military service, they will denigrate the records of decorated veterans like John Kerry and Jack Murtha. They will even accuse the war’s critics of providing aid and comfort to the enemy, which is the legal definition of treason.

Then the White House will turn around after days of encouraging such vilification of their opponents and leak the commanding general’s optimistic plan to start withdrawing troops, which would proceed according to the same timetable proposed by those weak and pusillanimous Democrats. That is meant to reassure the majority of Americans, who realize that invading Iraq was a strategic error and a tragedy that must be concluded as soon as possible.

All the slanders and all the maneuvers are performed for political expedience, not national security. In pursuit of Karl Rove’s electoral strategy, the Republicans will spend a trillion dollars and squander thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives and the prestige of the United States. There is only one thing they won’t do. They will not speak honestly about the war, because the truth cannot accommodate their crude partisan rhetoric. The unfortunate reality is that President Bush has no “plan for victory.” On some days, he cannot foresee removing American troops during his presidency and says that withdrawal will be a decision for “future presidents” to make. On other days, he contemplates removing two-thirds of our combat brigades there by the end of next year. On some days, his ambassador to Baghdad discusses amnesty for the insurgents with the Iraqi government and other negotiable items. On other days, those difficult subjects are utterly taboo. He has no plan, because the invasion of Iraq didn’t proceed according to the expectations of the White House and the Pentagon. The Bush war cabinet had formulated a sketchy plan at the outset, with vague, implausible notions of how postwar Iraq would be pacified, rebuilt and governed.

Among the ill-conceived schemes originally contemplated by our ill-advised leaders was the installation of exile Ahmed Chalabi as Baghdad’s strongman. That dubious daydream had to be abandoned, along with the flower-strewn parades and the reimbursement of our expenses with oil revenues. What we got instead was suicide bombings, an intractable insurgency, an ethnic civil war and a government allied with Iran.

While the Bush administration has no plan, the government of Iraq seems to be considering a negotiated peace. Iraqi officials have been talking with representatives of the Sunni rebels, in the hope of convincing them to lay down their weapons and engage in democratic politics.

Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki recently offered a limited “reconciliation” initiative meant to bring together the country’s warring factions and reduce support for the insurgency. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has assisted this effort, although his help is limited in the White House political agenda. Unfortunately, that agenda blocks the Iraqis from dealing with the real problems motivating the insurgency.

Most Sunni insurgents, unlike the followers of the late and unlamented terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi, might be drawn to the bargaining table under certain conditions. Credible press reports indicate that those conditions must include a broad amnesty for fighters who have attacked American troops and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and the end of the occupation.

The Iraqi government might well be inclined to discuss those issues. But the Bush administration insists that there can be no broad amnesty and that any exit timetable would only encourage the terrorists.

When Bush visited Baghdad for a few hours on June 13, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al Hashimi, a Sunni leader, urged him to set a date for ending the occupation. The Iraqi president, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, who has been talking directly with insurgent representatives, said he supported Hashimi’s request.

Polls in both countries show substantial agreement between the peoples of Iraq and the United States on ending the occupation. Seventy percent of Iraqis wish that foreign troops would leave their country by the end of next year, and nearly 60% of Americans want our troops home by then, or sooner. But no matter what the Iraqis may want and no matter what the American generals may recommend, don’t expect Bush to “cut and run” — or at least not until after November.

To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website,

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