WASHINGTON — The voters have sent a clear message to President Bush: It’s time to pull out of Iraq.
But the president still refuses to listen.
In a bruising post-election news conference Wednesday, an emotional Bush extended an olive branch to the victorious Democrats to "work together" on some of the differences between them but he remained adamant that U.S. troops will not come home from Iraq until "the job is done."
He told reporters, "We cannot not accept defeat in Iraq."
But he did announce the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — one of the neo-conservative architects of the war — and declared that a "fresh start" was needed. Former CIA director Robert Gates has been named as Rumsfeld’s successor.
Bush was not on the ballot in Tuesday’s mid-term elections which swept Democrats into control of the House and, likely, the Senate.
But the election turned into a national referendum on his preemptive catastrophic invasion of Iraq and his conservative domestic policies — aided and abetted by a rubber-stamp Republican-led Congress.
The people have spoken and their message was one of disgust with the militant Bush-Cheney policy that set "victory" as the only exit strategy.
On the campaign trail Bush took a hard line, saying "if the Democrats win, the terrorists win and America loses."
It’s now up to the rejoicing Democrats — out of power for many years — to find a way out of the quagmire. The ball is in their court.
So far they have not stepped up to this challenge, offering only vague bromides and nebulous goals.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a retired Marine officer and staunch defender of the Pentagon, deserves credit for his call earlier this year for U.S. troops to leave Iraq, starting "at the earliest practicable date."
But now that they are empowered, it’s time for the Democrats to come up with specific plans and take a strong stand against continuing the mayhem the Bush administration ignited by invading oil-rich Iraq. Although the president has conceded Iraq had nothing to do with the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., he insists that defeat by the Iraqi resistance "is not an option" and he continues to mush terrorism with the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Although he is paying a heavy price, Bush is not one to admit defeat for this foreign policy fiasco. He already has assigned his successors — to be named after the 2008 election — the job of ending the war at some future date. He indicated at his news conference again, that he expects the war to go beyond his presidency.
Bush’s former chief speechwriter Michael Gerson was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying the president "will not abandon the war in Iraq but must redefine it in a way that satisfies a public desire for a change."
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who won re-election Tuesday, said the administration’s Iraq policy "absolutely has to change."
Meantime, Bush says he will meet soon with former Secretary of State James Baker, the astute Bush family confidant who is co-chairman of a Congress-ordained Iraq Study Group. The panel is preparing several options for Bush on how to extricate U.S. troops from Iraq without causing more chaos.
Baker has already rejected a quick pullout from Iraq and the panel is reportedly focusing on ways to achieve stability in Iraq to bring the troops home.
The Democrats in Congress may fall back on the bipartisan panel’s recommendations, seeming to have lit on none of their own.
Americans are rarely given a chance for input on the question of war and peace. This time they have spoken and the Democrats should listen.
© 2006 Hearst Newspapers