GADFLY: Time to Pull the Plug 

Imagine this scenario: a wacko takes hostages, and instead of negotiating with the police to release them (and surrender himself), starts killing them instead. How long do you think it will take for the authorities to take control of the situation, one way or another? They don't wait for additional hostages to be killed, and when they're told by the hostage-taker that they can go **** themelves, the negotiations end and the end game begins.

That is exactly where we are with George Bush and Iraq. Bush has taken this country hostage, and, as he has made perfectly clear, he isn't interested in negotiating our release. Every day Bush continues in his pig-headed intransigence, more Americans die, as do many more Iraqis. Instead of acknowledging what almost everyone in a position to know (Kofi Annan, Colin Powell, NBC, etc.) is telling him, namely that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, he continues to deny that fact, probably because the conventional wisdom is that our military does't need to be in the middle of a civil war. He also refuses to recognize the need to pull out of Iraq, despite the clear message the voters of this country sent him on November 7th, namely, that it's time for us to go. Sixty percent of Americans, in a recent poll, favored withdrawal of our troops. But if allowed to, Bush will "stay the course" until who knows how many more thousands will be killed or maimed. As we've recently learned, he doesn't really care what anyone else thinks about this. He ignored the recently-disclosed, last-minute, face-saving recommendations of his secretary of defense, and he's even telegraphed his intentions to ignore the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission. Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!

Now we see that Bush (and his puppet, Maliki) are playing for time, with their latest announcement, at their laugable "summit" in Amman, that the handover of security responsibility to the Iraqis will be "speeded up," with a target date of June 2007. But anyone who's followed the progress of the "Iraqis stand up so the U.S. can stand down," knows this latest announcement is a ploy intended to allow Bush to continue to pursue his failed policies, and, in part, a subterfuge for the fact that, one way or another, American troops are going to have to be withdrawn from Iraq. Every piece of information we've gotten about the success of "standing the Iraqis up" has indicated this is a fool's errand. The Pentagon has issued conflicting reports about the number of Iraqis who have been trained, culminating in its recent decision to stop reporting that number. Recent published reports indicate that the training component of the mission has been badly mismanaged, and that the Iraqis are not being trained at anything close to an acceptable rate, primarily because they are untrainable, but also because of the substantial disincentive to Iraqis (i.e., death) to serve in their army and police. The best estimates of how long it may take for the Iraqis to handle their own security indicate it may be as long as 10 years, and the Iraqis have no incentive to take over their own security as long as Bush continues to intone statements like he did recently, namely that we'll be there as long as the Iraqis want us to be.

So, what to do. The answer is simple. Pull the plug on the hostage taker. De-fund the war.  This is the only way the Congress will effectuate the mandate it was given in the mid-term election. Oh sure, we can go through all the machinations of waiting for the Baker Commission report, gnash our teeth while the Democrats try to reconcile their differing opinions on how to end our involvement in Iraq, and watch in exasperation as Bush and Cheney continue to throw good military people after bad foreign policy, but why should we. Bush has no intention of pulling troops out of Iraq (no "graceful exit" for him), apparently oblivious to the outcome of the election and, presumably, to what the newly Democratic Congress has to say about it. So, we can assume that even if the Democrats formulate a unified policy about Iraq, and even if that policy is for a "phased withdrawal," the president, who has the last word on troop deployment, will ignore what the Democratic congress has to say.

That leaves the Congress only one alternative: it must exercise the only authority it has in wartime, namely to de-fund the war in Iraq, and it must do so sooner than later, before too many more American troops are killed in the pursuit of this misadventure. The unfortunate fact is, George Bush, as the commander in chief, controls our military, and its deployment. If he wants to keep our troops in Iraq indefinitely, he can, and there's very little we, as citizens, can do about it. But the fact also is that while he may control our troops, we, through our elected representatives,  control the purse strings for the war, and we must demand that they cut off funding for this crazy war. The argument against de-funding the war is that it endangers our troops. Not as much, I suggest, as keeping them there. But, as we saw in Vietnam, when de-funding was the only thing that finally extricated us from a war a similarly intransigent president, at the time, refused to recognize, funding can be withdrawn in a manner that doesn't threaten our troops.

The time has come to take control of the situation in Iraq away from a president who has obviously become disconnected from reality. End the hostage-taking now.

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