EDITORIAL On Jan. 12, a couple months shy of the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and put to rest any question of whether the conflict in that country can be declared a civil war:
"We face, in essence, four different wars," he said. "The war of Shia on Shia, principally in the south; sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad and the environs of Baghdad; third, a Baathist insurgency; and fourth, al-Qaeda."
The Pentagon made it official March 14, when a report declared that "in some ways" Iraq is in the throes of a civil war. The report also noted that October through December 2006 was the most violent three-month period since 2003.
The carnage is horrible: more than 3,000 US troops have been killed. The United Nations, according to Reuters, says some 34,500 civilians were killed in 2006 alone. About 2 million Iraqis have fled abroad, and another 1.7 million have moved elsewhere in Iraq to escape violence and sectarian cleansing.
The cost is spectacular and almost unfathomably tragic: more than $400 billion so far. The money that San Francisco alone has spent on the war could have paid for 12,000 affordable housing units, the National Priorities Project estimates. All of that money has come in special supplemental budget requests, so it hasn't been a part of any rational budget discussion.
And yet while the Democrats have offered an alternative plan to withdraw from Iraq, party leaders are still refusing to do what Congress has every right to do: demand that no more money be spent on combat operations in Iraq, set a timetable for pulling out the last troops and specify that not a single dollar will be spent on anything except safely removing US personnel.
Hillary Clinton, by many accounts the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, even said last week that she thinks the United States will have a military presence in Iraq for years to come.
The opposition party has to do better than that.
Seventy percent of Americans oppose the war. The allies are getting ready to bail: Prime Minister Tony Blair just announced the British have set a timetable for withdrawing troops. The protests in the streets during the past few days should be a signal to Rep. Nancy Pelosi: Congress can't pass nonbinding resolutions and come up with plans that the president can simply veto. George W. Bush has no intention of listening to what the public wants. In a March 19 speech he proclaimed that "the fight is difficult, but it can be won." Translation: the war will continue as long as Bush is in office unless Congress forces him to stop it. And the only way to do that is to cut off funding.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Petaluma) has introduced legislation that would block further war spending but fully fund a deliberate withdrawal aimed at pulling the last US troops out by the end of this year. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) is a cosponsor. Pelosi needs to sign on and put the power of the new Democratic majority behind the only feasible plan to end what the New York Times is calling an "unnecessary, horribly botched and now unwinnable" war. *