What the President needs to do before Sept. 15

K. T. McFarland:

Rather than head off to Texas next month, President Bush should sacrifice his summer vacation this year — the same way American troops in Iraq are sacrificing theirs — and commit himself to doing the two things that will make a difference in the outcome of the Iraq War.

First, he needs to go on the road and make his case to the American people why they should continue to support the war, and why their representatives should vote against withdrawal in the fall. Before he gets to be the decider-in-chief he needs to become the persuader-in-chief. And the time for him to do it is running out.

Mr. Bush needs to go over the heads of the liberal media and explain directly to the American people just what is at stake in Iraq. He needs to level with us about the consequences to the United States and Iraq if we withdraw before the Iraqis can manage their own security.

Right now about the only person making that case is the New York Times bureau chief in Baghdad, John Burns. As Mr. Burns said in a recent interview with Charlie Rose — which should be required viewing for every member of the administration and Congress — the consensus opinion in Iraq is that our withdrawal right now would be followed by widespread ethnic cleansing and genocide. No matter how we try to "spin it" the Arab world will see our withdrawal as defeat. It will embolden al Qaeda and those who would do us ill and will cause our allies in the region to hedge their bets and distance themselves from us.

The president also needs to point out that if we leave, the thousands of militants — be they al Qaeda, Sunni or Shi'ite — are unlikely to put down their arms and join the Baghdad Rotary Club or the Fallujah P.T.A.They're more likely to take the fight to Iraq's neighbors — Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Syria. War could well spill out beyond Iraq's borders and threaten to destabilize the entire Persian Gulf region, and also endanger the free flow of oil.

Furthermore, Mr. Bush must level with us about the price tag for staying in Iraq — in lives, in treasure and in time. Now that Plan A has failed, what is his Plan B? Because despite all the anti-war rhetoric coming from the left, when you strip it away they don't have a Plan B either. They're making a lot of noise and banging around a lot of pots and pans to disguise the fact that they don't have a recipe.

Most of all, however, Mr. Bush needs to have a heart-to-heart talk with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi government and tell them the jig is up. He has been assuring the Iraqis for far too long that "as you stand up we will stand down." What he needs to tell them now — bluntly and in no uncertain terms — is that unless you guys stand up, we're standing down. And the time for them to stand up is running out.

The deadline is September 15, because that's when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will report on the progress — or lack of progress — in Iraq. Unless there is some good news in their report, the mood in Congress will get ugly. Returning legislators will have just spent their summer vacations back in their districts talking to constituents. And they will have heard a bellyful of complaints. Absent some compelling reasons to stay in Iraq, Congress will likely vote to cut off funds in the months ahead. Then the real fighting breaks out, both in Washington and in Iraq.

It is not clear to me that Congress is interested in the facts in Iraq anymore. The Democrats seem hell bent on losing whatever the facts on the ground may be. What the President can do is make it harder for them to ignore the facts by doing what McFarland suggest. It is certainly worth the effort to buy the time the military needs to finish the mission.

McFarland goes on the make the obligatory statements about mistakes in the previous four years. I think these "mistakes" are generally overstated and much of what have been accomplished in the recent months was because of the ground work that was done the four previous years. It would be a tragedy to through away that effort just because the Democrats want to waste the effort for their political gain and to prevent the use of force in the future.

Make no mistake about it, one of the primary goals of the Democrat desperation for defeat in Iraq is to make the use of force in the future impossible.


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