The Times weighs in with a strong editorial on Iraq

An excerpt from an editorial today, Past Time to Get Real on Iraq:  

What they (The Amiercan People) need is for the president to acknowledge how bad things have gotten in Iraq (not just that it is not going as well as he planned) and to be honest about how limited the remaining options truly are. The country wants to know how Mr. Bush plans to end its involvement in a way that preserves as much of the nation’s remaining honor and influence as possible, limits the suffering of the Iraqi people and the harm to Iraq’s neighbors, and gives Iraqi leaders a chance — should they finally decide to take it — to rescue their country from an even worse disaster once the Americans are gone.

The reality that Mr. Bush needs to acknowledge when he speaks to the nation tomorrow night is that the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is feeding rather than restraining Iraq’s brutal civil war. The Iraqi Army cannot be relied on to impose order even in Baghdad, while the Iraqi police forces — dominated by sectarian militias — are inciting the mayhem.

Mr. Bush must acknowledge that there is no military solution for Iraq. Whatever plan he offers needs to start with a tough set of political benchmarks for national reconciliation that the Iraqi government is finally expected to meet. It needs to concentrate enough forces in Baghdad to bring some security to streets and neighborhoods, giving Iraq’s leaders one last opportunity to try to bargain their way out of civil war.

His plan needs to lay out tight timetables in which the Iraqis must take major steps to solve fundamental issues, including equitably dividing their oil wealth and disarming vengeful militias. There must also be a clear and rapid timetable for achieving enough stability in Baghdad to hand back significant military responsibilities to the Iraqis.

The last time America presented Mr. Maliki with a set of political benchmarks, he bluntly rejected them. If he does that again, there is no way America can or should try to secure Iraq on its own. Mr. Bush must make clear to both Iraqis and Americans that without significant progress, American forces will not remain.

We’re under no illusions. Meeting those challenges is going to be extremely tough. And Iraq’s unraveling may already be too far gone.

For Mr. Bush, this means resisting any vague Nixonian formula of “peace with honor” that translates into more years of fighting on for the same ever-receding goals. Democrats in Congress should also resist euphemistic formulas like “phased redeployment,” which really means trying to achieve with even fewer troops what Washington failed to achieve with current force levels.

Nor can America simply turn its back on whatever happens to Iraq after it leaves. With or without American troops, a nightmare future for Iraq is a nightmare future for the United States, too, whether it consists of an expanding civil war that turns into a regional war or millions of Iraq’s people and its oil fields falling under the tightening grip of a more powerful Iran.

Mr. Bush is widely expected to announce a significant increase in American troops to deploy in Baghdad’s violent neighborhoods. He needs to explain to Congress and the American people where the dangerously tapped-out military is going to find those troops. And he needs to place a strict time limit on any increase, or it will turn into a thinly disguised escalation of the American combat role.