Although the interim report on the "surge" strategy in Iraq is not due for another two months, a growing number of politicians in Washington are already calling for an end to the war.
Senator Harry Reid, the Democrat majority leader in the Senate, says he regards ending the war as his "moral duty." In recent days, a number of Republican senators, including such establishment grandees as Richard Lugar, have joined him.
To call for an end to the war, however, is neither here nor there.
Those involved in any war want it to end as fast as possible. Neither Reid nor Lugar could claim that President George W Bush or anyone in his administration does not want the war to end. The Iraqi government and the Iraqi army also want the war to end, as do their adversaries in Al Qaeda and the Saddamite camp. Al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri has repeatedly called on "Jihadists" to end the war by defeating the Americans and chasing them balk to their homeland.
What Reid and Lugar must do is to say how they want this war to end.
There are three ways you can end a war:
* By admitting that you have lost, and surrendering to the victor,
* By negotiating a truce with the enemy,
* By winning, and imposing your will on the vanquished enemy.
Reid and Lugar, however, know that none of those options is available.
The US cannot declare itself the loser because it has not lost. Even if such a declaration were made, it is hard to see to whom would the US army in Iraq surrender.
Those fighting against the emerging democracy in Iraq do not represent a single, easily identifiable, force. The two biggest groups are Al Qaeda and the remnants of the Saddamites. However, these two have not come together to create an authority to which General David Petraeus might surrender. Besides, dozens of other religious, ethnic and plain criminal armed groups are also fighting the US-led coalition, and one another.
Some "realists" have hinted that the US might make a deal with the Islamic Republic in Tehran and its Syrian clients who would then help the Americans run away in safety. That theory, however, overestimates the influence of Tehran and Damascus in Iraq and the willingness of the Iraqis to kowtow to predatory neighbors.
The second option, negotiating a truce, is also not in the cards.
Those fighting the US-led coalition in Iraq have no regards for the Marques of Queensbury rule and dismiss the laws of war as "Zionist-Crusader" inventions. They are dedicated to a war to the death against the" Great Satan", whether in Iraq or anywhere else.
As seasoned dealmakers, raised in a culture of compromise and win-win arrangements, Reid and Lugar will never understand the mindset of the enemy that the US is fighting in Iraq.
The only option left, and the surest, for ending the war is to win it.
That requires national commitment, bipartisan accord, and a readiness to run the extra mile to exhaust the enemy.
Reid cannot champion such a course for two reasons.
First, the base of his party is controlled by anti-war militants who regard US "Imperialism" as a greater menace than Al Qaeda.
Secondly, calling for victory under a Republican president could diminish the Democrats' electoral chances in 2008.
Lugar, too, cannot call for ending the war by winning it for two reasons.
First, such a call would anger his friends in the James Baker-Brent Scowcroft camp of foreign policy "realists" who blame the "neo-cons" for their demise.
Secondly, Lugar fears that too close an association with the Bush Doctrine might cost the Republicans more senate seats next year.
Because they know that none of the above options is available, Reid and Lugar are calling for the setting of a timetable for troop withdrawal.
This is a political ploy but not a serious policy option. It is not admitting defeat, but isn't calling for bipartisan unity to achieve victory either. Nor is it an invitation to negotiate with enemies dedicated to the destruction of the modern world. It is built on James Baker's notorious phrase: "We don't have a dog in this fight, so why get involved?"
However, the two senators are surely intelligent enough to know that cut-and-run isn't an option either.
It is always easier to take an army into a territory than out.
The entering army gets stronger by the day as more men and materiel arrive to consolidate its original bridgehead. A leaving army, on the other hand, gets weaker by the day, as the number of its men diminishes because of withdrawal while its materiel is shipped out.
It took the US almost nine months to assemble the forces and the weapons systems needed to invade Iraq in March 2003. It could take at least twice as long for US and allied forces to be taken out. One reason is that withdrawal can take place only through Kuwait, as Iraq's other neighbours- Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran- are unlikely to open their borders to let the Americans run to safety.
There are three ways that a foreign army can be taken out of a country it has invaded:
* Through agreement with a native authority capable of ensuring security along the lines of retreat,
*By surrendering to the victor and being put under the protection of the International Red Cross, or
* By fighting its way out.
As things are in Iraq right now, only the third option is open to the US and its allies.
In "Anabasis", Xenophon describes the ordeal of an army trying to escape from a hostile territory while attacked by enemies that recognize no laws of war. Thus, withdrawal could be further slowed down by Al Qaeda and Saddamite attacks on a diminishing US military force on its way out of Iraq.
Reid and Lugar maybe nostalgic about the way the US cut and run in Vietnam. However, they would do well to remember that Iraq is not what Vietnam was in the 1970s.
In Vietnam, the US made a deal with an enemy authority- the Hanoi Government and its Vietcong agents- who could make sure that the fleeing Americans would not be attacked. As for the war materiel, the US handed its stores to the South Vietnamese Army. Even then, it is well to remember that the American cut-and-run process in Vietnam, including the negotiating phase, took almost three years to complete.
The Reid-Lugar call for ending the war can only encourage the enemies of new Iraq, and of the United States, to keep fighting despite the fact that the tide has turned against them in both military and political terms. In other words, those who are calling for an end to the war are, in fact, prolonging it.
Here is my guess: the US cannot cut and run in Iraq because no easy mechanism for such a move exists. Even if the Democrats win the White House next year, they would not be able to end this war unless they win it or find someone they can acknowledge as victor.