DUMMERSTON, Vt. — In the spring of 2003, the White House was still basking in the glow of what appeared to be a quick and decisive victory over the Iraqi military.
Richard Perle, one of the architects of the Bush administration's war strategy, said at the time: "Next year at about this time, I expect there will be a really thriving trade in the region, and we will see rapid economic development. And a year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad named after President Bush."
Fast forward four years later. A quick victory over a decimated foe on the battlefield morphed into a long, bloody occupation against the backdrop of sectarian civil war and the near-total breakdown of civil society in Iraq.
More than 3,200 American soldiers and as many as 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died. The occupation that was supposed to finance itself is costing America about $2 billion a week. And the end to this madness is nowhere in sight.
Yet Congress continues to flop around in its efforts trying to force President Bush to withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq.
Last Friday, the U.S. House narrowly approved a $122 billion spending request by the Bush administration to fund continuing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that tied the money to a firm timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. The measure called for withdrawal by Sept. 1, 2008, sooner if President Bush cannot certify that the Iraqi government is making progress on internal security, allocation of oil revenues and completing its constitution.
But the House legislation was so squishy and filled with loopholes that it would ultimately have no real effect. The Senate legislation approved on Tuesday is equally as toothless. In any event, the White House has no intention of obeying the will of Congress and the growing public cry to put an end to this war.
Vice President Dick Cheney set the tone a couple of weeks ago when he spoke to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington and a stalwart supporter of the Iraq war.
Cheney said that anti-war lawmakers are "undermining" U.S. troops in Iraq by trying to limit spending on the war.
"When members (of Congress) speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines and other arbitrary measures, they are telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out," said Cheney. He also called February's nonbinding vote in the House against troop increases an example of "twisted logic" that was "not a proud episode in the history of the United States Congress."
Cheney still clings to the belief that Iraq is the central front in the so-called global war against terrorism and that any weakening of resolve will embolden our enemies. He is among the last people in America to still believe this.
Few still believe, as Cheney does, that the United States can ultimately achieve victory in Iraq. Perhaps back in April 2003, after Baghdad was captured and Saddam Hussein was ousted from power, one could say victory in that phase of the war was achieved. But there is a huge difference between winning a war and winning the peace.
Leaving aside the myriad of lies that propelled this nation into this misbegotten war, the history of U.S. involvement in Iraq over the last four years has been a series of missed opportunities. From the failure to provide security after the fall of Baghdad, to the lack of a coherent plan for reconstruction and the refusal to allow other nations to help, to the refusal to let Iraqis control their political and economic fate, it has been one mistake after another in Iraq for the Bush administration.
Americans now see this, and are looking for a way out. Unfortunately, it looks like the Democrats are backing away from the original plan to require the Bush administration and the Iraqi government to meet specific benchmarks for progress to receive additional funding.
Instead of negotiating with Bush for another year in Iraq before facing any consequences, it's time for the Democratic majority in Congress to say there will be no more blank checks issued to continue this illegal and immoral war. If any money is to be appropriated, it should be earmarked for withdrawing all troops from Iraq by the end of this year.
Opinion polls show a clear and sizable majority of Americans want a firm deadline for withdrawal. That, combined with honest diplomacy with other nations in the Middle East to help contain Iraq's ongoing civil war and provide more international assistance to rebuild Iraq, is about the only workable option left for the United States.
The Democrats won control of Congress last November because they said they were going to put an end to the war in Iraq. It's time they lived up to the words that they ran on.