A new Congress convenes this week, eager to set a US exit from Iraq. Next week, President Bush unveils a new plan for "victory" in the war. Each side will probably describe its plans as a necessary sacrifice. But until each first gives way in its own positions, Americans may not rally to anyone's call for sacrifice.
A political line has been drawn in the desert sands of noncommunication between the White House and a Democrat-led Congress. The lack of a bipartisan dialogue was the most significant story not told in recent days about Iraq – bigger than the politically mishandled execution of Saddam Hussein on Saturday or the symbolic milestone reached on Sunday as the 3,000th US soldier was killed in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
Both a Republican White House and the newly empowered Democratic leaders in Congress now find it difficult to come together to craft a new future for the US in Iraq. Why? Because these politicians have so much at stake in defending positions of the past.
Is it possible for them to get over that?
So far, it doesn't appear so. Instead, Mr. Bush huddled with only his top security officials last week to design a new strategy, even brushing off concerns of some top military brass. His new plan is expected to increase the number of US troops in Iraq for many months and put more money toward creating jobs for young Iraqi men. Bush also talks of a multi-year US commitment to Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Senate's foreign relations committee plans three weeks of hearings on the war, with many of its Democratic members already stating opposition to the possible Bush plan. And the hearings' outcome is complicated by the fact that several of the senators on the panel are also bidding to run for president in 2008.
Bush may call on Americans to sacrifice more lives and money in hopes of finally creating an Arab democracy in a region of autocrats that breeds terrorists. Many Democrats, saying that reaching that goal is unlikely, want the US to accept the sacrifice of a war loss, and the potential consequences from it, such as a Middle East that exports more terror.
The last time Congress took over a war policy from a president was in 1973-74, with veto-proof votes on the Vietnam War. Lawmakers ended a US military role in Vietnam and Cambodia, and then cut off money to South Vietnam. US lives were saved, but nearly a million lives were lost in those two countries after communist victories in 1975.
Bush was reelected in 2004 while commander in chief of an Iraq war that an earlier Congress had backed. In 2006, Democrats won Congress with public sentiment moving against the war. Resolving the clashing results of these elections requires statesmanship beyond politics, and wisdom born of letting old ideas go.
By first withholding judgment, both sides should consult quietly until common ground can be found for a joint policy. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group did that. Bush and top Democrats can, too.
Decades of polarization in Washington have hindered a bipartisan approach over Iraq. With so much at stake, can the US still afford that?