Longer than World War II

As Iraq moves fast "toward the point of no return," the Baker group eyes talks with Iran and Syria.

Published November 27, 2006 2:08PM (EST)

George W. Bush's war in Iraq has now lasted longer than U.S. involvement in World War II did. That's probably not how the president imagined things would go. Nor, we're betting, did he imagine that he'd be reading, three years and eight months into the war, an AP lead like this one: "BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Authorities lifted a three-day curfew in the capital and reopened the international airport Monday, clearing the way for President Jalal Talabani to make an official visit to Iran."

This is what it has come to.

Approximately 250 Iraqis were killed in bombings and reprisals over the last few days -- a sign, Reuters says, that "Iraq's sectarian conflict may be too far gone for leaders to stop, even if they want to." Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warns that Iraq is "moving very fast toward the point of no return." "The shadow of death and destruction is everywhere," he says. "We are all responsible, including me, for this situation."

No one is more responsible, of course, than the man who decided to start the war. The president spent Thanksgiving at Camp David, then returned to the White House Saturday, where he's waiting for the Baker commission's report -- or the Pentagaon's in-case-he-doesn't-like-it counterproposal -- before deciding to do anything about Iraq.

The New York Times has seen a draft of the Baker report, and it's not exactly a miracle cure: Ask Iran and Syria to help, tie the withdrawal of U.S. troops to improvement of Iraqi security forces and avoid anything that looks like a specific timetable. The commissioners may or may not be able to agree on the military component of the report, the Times says; the White House may not be too excited about the diplomatic part. As National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said back in October: "Talking isn't a strategy."

Maybe that's right, but neither is what got us this far. Back in the greeted-as-liberators days, the Bush team envisioned Iraq as a big step in a march of democracy that would sweep through the Middle East. Now Vice President Cheney goes to Saudi Arabia to talk about the problem Iraq has become. Bush goes to Jordan to meet with the Iraqi prime minister, hoping that another round of looking-into-his-eyes diplomacy will somehow set things straight. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani goes hat in hand to Iran, as soon as things calm down enough for him to leave. And the Baker commission thinks the only way out of Iraq is through the goodwill and assistance of Iran and Syria.

Talking may not be a strategy. But three years and eight months into a war that should never have begun, talking is all that anybody has left.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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