This editorial appeared in the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer:
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At least they're talking. After congressional Democrats passed a troop withdrawal timetable for Iraq - which was promptly vetoed by President Bush - both sides have settled into talks, in which the president for once seems open to a deal that would include some benchmarks for measuring progress in the war. One hopes the president does not slip back into his recalcitrant, no-compromise posture that has only succeeded in making this war ever more unpopular with the American people.
And yes, Democrats for now have to be willing to back off from a certain date for the beginning of troop withdrawals. Frankly, it's hard to argue with the president's position that a deadline would undermine his "surge" strategy before it's had a chance to be fully tested, and probably would cause our enemies in Iraq just to sit back and await the arrival of the withdrawal date.
The ultimate goal must be the departure of United States troops from Iraq, ideally under conditions in which a democratic Iraqi government is able to function and protect citizens from attack by homicidal insurgents. Toward that end, it's reasonable for the president and Congress to set benchmarks for the Iraqis to meet, demonstrating their own commitment to the goals for which more than 3,300 Americans have died.
Four years after U.S. forces toppled the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, it's long since time the Iraqi government did more to resolve the internal strife that has frustrated efforts to establish democracy - or whatever form of representative government can find support in Iraq. There have been thousands upon thousands of Iraqi deaths as well, not to mention a gathering of terrorists in the country.
Benchmarks of progress would encourage Iraqi self-sufficiency, and clarify what will happen when those goals are either met or not met in terms of reducing American involvement.
The president doesn't want to "lose" this war, of course, because there could be negative long-term implications in the region, and because his very troubled administration would be pronounced a complete failure if he did. Bush undoubtedly believes that his policy in Iraq has been right and necessary.
But even with the troop surge now under way as a last-gasp attempt to salvage the war effort, many Americans have concluded that the war was a poorly conceived mistake, and that the prospects for some kind of positive military outcome are not good. Members of Bush's own Republican Party are beginning to move away from him. In other words, the president simply must listen seriously to other voices and let Congress have some say in the decision-making. At this point, he has no choice.
Democrats who took control of Capitol Hill largely on the strength of anti-war sentiment must be constructive as well, and they obviously must pass a bill funding our troops in combat. In that, they have no choice.
At the end of the day, these two, widely divided sides must begin to come together and forgo partisan advantage-seeking for the 2008 election. We have a mess here. It will take more than one policy to get us out of it.