The Washington Post ran a story today, 4.8.2007, in which an official was quoted as saying that the effort to stabilize Iraq will take 5-10 years, minimum. The theme of the article was that the political timetable in Washington is different from the timetable that the military is operating under in Iraq. The military officers serving in Iraq see American forces being in Iraq for years while the politicians funding the war in Washington see us being in Iraq in terms of months.
One of things that Bush has managed to do is resist setting any meaningful standards by which the American people can measure the progress of the Iraq War. Saying things like "We will stand down as the Iraqis stand up" doesn't really say anything. How are we to measure whether Iraqis have stood up? By the number of civilian deaths in Iraq? By the number of instances of sectarian violence in Iraq? How is progress in Iraq to be determined?
Bush can't answer that question because he doesn't know. He keeps insisting on discussing Iraq as if there was an enemy in Iraq that is foreign to Iraqis, as if all we have to do is defeat that enemy and we will have "won" Iraq. The problem is that most of the killing is being done by Iraqis against other Iraqis. Unless Iraqis become convinced that killing each other is not in their best interests the killing won't stop. Apparently if the killing doesn't stop then Bush and his supporters see American troops staying in Iraq indefinitely.
If, in 2002, when he sought the resolution to go to war with Iraq, he had told the American people that this war would mean American troops in Iraq until 2008 or beyond, they would never have supported it. The American people weren't told that, instead they were fed a fantasy about how our troops would be greeted as "liberators" and that the Iraqi people would be eternally grateful for our efforts.
Now, of course, over 3,000 American deaths later, we are supposed to stay in Iraq because of all the bad things that will happen if we leave. Here's a question: if the Bush Administration was so wrong about what would happen when we went into Iraq, why should we believe them about what will happen if we leave?