On the Road to Nowhere in Iraq?

President Bush has succeeded in prolonging the U.S. presence in Iraq despite rising public dismay over the war. Since the war's critics in Congress seem to have no stomach for a fight on the issue, we remain in a quagmire.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

President Bush is preparing for his address to the nation tomorrow night. The topic is, of course, Iraq. And he's expected to announce that he's pulling the 30,000 troops that make up the so-called surge out by next summer, if conditions permit. Democrats are responding, saying that's not soon enough.

Here's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): Now that September has come, the surge has that ample time to run its course. This is what we know: Every objective assessment has shown the surge has failed to bring the Iraqi government closer to political reconciliation. Despite these facts, the president has told us to be patient. His plan is neither a drawdown nor a change in mission that we need. His plan is simply more of the same.

This is unacceptable to me. It's unacceptable to the American people.

BLOCK: Despite the rhetoric, Democrats are unlikely to muster the votes to force the president's hand by cutting off funds for the war.

So NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says be prepared for the U.S. to be in Iraq for a long time to come.

DANIEL SCHORR: We seem to be well embarked on the road to quagmire. Since last January, when President Bush sent a surge of 30,000 troops to Iraq to establish favorable conditions for creation of unified government, he has fended off questions and criticism by invoking the David mantra - the report that General David Petraeus would deliver in mid-September that would chart the way ahead.

The viable unified government has yet to come into being. The improved security conditions in provinces like Anbar could as easily favor a sectarian partition as a central government. And so the new cause that General Petraeus was supposed to come up with looks a lot like an extension of the old course.

The 30,000 troops to be withdrawn by next summer will only restore troop strength to its pre-surge level. And two rigorous days of congressional testimony provided not the slightest indication of any terminal date for American intervention in Iraq. To the contrary, the general warned of the dangers of a too hasty pullout.

President Bush, who has successfully kicked the can from January to September, is now prepared to kick the can again into the unspecified future. If there is to be a concerted Democratic opposition to what looks like a war of indefinite duration, it is yet to evidence itself.

Senators Harry Reid and Richard Durbin have complained that the pace of withdrawal is unacceptable. Senator Barack Obama has called for immediate withdrawal. Other Democratic candidates will surely be heard from but that does not seem to be a significant movement to speed the return of American troops. It seems likely now that President Bush will be handing his unfinished war to his successor who may also find that getting into a war is easier than getting out.

That's what they call a quagmire.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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