Whitesburg KY

Sorting through rhetoric of war

Even here in Hardin County, the Heartland of Kentucky where many of our neighbors, colleagues and friends have experienced combat firsthand, it’s a challenge to penetrate the rhetorical fog of war.

Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker assured a joint hearing of two House committees that progress toward the goal of stabilizing a self-governed, self-protected Iraq are within reach. Petraeus said at least 30,000 troops could return home in the next year, beginning this month.

The comments by Petraeus and Crocker came within a week of a study by Comptroller General David M. Walker who called the Iraqi government dysfunctional and said it has failed to meet most of the benchmarks required by Congress to continue funding of the war. In yet another report ordered by Congress, a 20-member commission found progress “uneven” in the Iraqi army and police security forces. And President Bush is going to follow up with an address to the nation.

That’s a lot to sort through and digest.

There is little room for dispute, though, about intensifying public disenchantment with the White House conduct of the war, the strategy, the shifting goals. There is little disagreement anymore that the most critical U.S. target today should be to remove our young troops from harm’s way in an increasingly unpopular war that so far has cost more than 3,700 U.S. lives.

There either is little reason to expect that setting a specific date to leave Iraq and then just walking away would be a realistic solution for the U.S., the Iraqis or the Middle East.

It will be difficult to cut through the partisan responses today from both sides drowning out the general’s reasoning even as you read this. But the signs are positive: The level of violence has decreased, declining eight of the past 12 weeks. The number of sectarian-civilian deaths declined 80 percent since December; deaths in Anbar province declined from 1,350 last October to 200 in August. And, most important, the Iraqi army has been shouldering more of the lead.

That’s what we heard, or read, in Petraeus’ report to Congress. Probably more important, however, is what the Iraqis and the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki heard. There should be no mistake in their interpretation: The tide is ebbing. The U.S. is not going to remain in country to support and protect them much longer. Stabilizing their governance by bridging ethnic hostilities is urgent; strengthening their army and security forces unavoidable.

Only the Iraqis can do what is needed. Only they can control their destiny.

The time has come.

– The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown

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