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Opinion

Elizabeth Sullivan: Does Washington never learn?

Elizabeth Sullivan Cleveland Plain Dealer

A rare political appeal for the bipartisan commonality needed to avert disaster in Iraq is being met with – surprise – unadulterated partisanship.

Monday night, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana shocked colleagues with a passionate knock-out punch to White House policy on Iraq.

The surge isn’t working, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said on the Senate floor. And it has no time to work, given Iraq’s accelerating political collapse, the intolerable strains on the U.S. military and the advancing U.S. political calendar.

“Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term,” Lugar said.

Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio chimed in Tuesday with a letter to President Bush calling for “a comprehensive plan for our country’s gradual military disengagement from Iraq.”

Both Republicans want the troops to start coming home – in part to avoid the worst-case scenario of a helter-skelter withdrawal tied to domestic political realities. Specifically, they worry that the coming political silly season of the presidential campaign will rope the parties into extremist positions and make a bipartisan consensus impossible.

Many don’t get it, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

Reid made it sound as if Lugar and Voinvoich were the ones who had just had a conversion all Republicans should undergo – instead of the Democratic conversion they seek, away from the low ground of safe but meaningless positions.

It’s as if Washington never listens, and never learns.

Political calculations were what got us into Iraq – not military need or real-world facts on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction or his make-believe 9/11 culpability.

Now, politics are again paralyzing the sort of debate that might allow orderly planning and aggressive diplomacy for a withdrawal timed to minimize chances of Iranian adventurism or a wider regional war.

Anthony Cordesman, one of the nation’s most accomplished analysts on Iraq, put it this way in a recent position paper subtitled “Beyond Partisan Failure and Dishonesty”:

“It is simply impossible to believe that the Democratic leaders of either the Senate or the House do not know their deadlines and benchmarks are unworkable.”

The May 2 paper also attacked the Bush administration for its lack of leadership and its “exaggeration and spin,” noting that “a rushed U.S. withdrawal from Iraq might lead to an all-out civil war or bloodbath, but probably would simply leave a shattered nation in lingering pain and division.”

The early onset of campaigning means reason and nuance already are out the window as far as most of the presidential contenders are concerned.

With rare exceptions, such as Democrat Joe Biden or Republican John McCain, most of the candidates’ positions lack details, or realism.

Cleveland Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, offers a handy Web link to his prescient 2002 analysis of why the coming Iraq war and its underpinnings were so dangerous. But his current “12-point plan” for withdrawal from Iraq, envisioning a U.N. rescue team, is among the most unpersuasive.

That’s because the United Nations and other white knights already have abandoned Iraq for the air-conditioned suites of safe Arab capitals.

When U.S. troops recently came across an Iraqi orphanage full of emaciated children, some chained to their beds because officials were selling their food for profit, it turned out the woman running the U.N. Fund for Children program in Iraq wasn’t actually in Iraq. She was hundreds of miles away – in Jordan.

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