Americans who still wondered if President Bush has been in denial about Iraq had their doubts forcefully shaken this week when a bipartisan commission issued its report, which said, "the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating."
In a hospital, "grave and deteriorating" would mean "near death." Staying the course would have a predictable consequence.
The 10-member commission, known as the Iraq Study Group, urged radical changes in American policy, including tactics and the nature of the mission, itself. It recommended withdrawal of American troops over 15 months, partly to pressure the Iraqi government to take responsibility for the country, and partly to acknowledge the twin facts that the American presence in Iraq is exacerbating the situation and that diplomacy has a better chance of taming this beast than combat.
It is also a recognition that, with Iraqi leaders unable or unwilling to step up to the task of controlling the insurgency and rebuilding the country, American troops are risking and losing their lives for no good reason.
The committee issued 79 recommendations, including some controversial -- and possibly unattainable -- ones, such as drawing Iran and Syria into a regional discussion about how to stabilize Iraq. Such proposals raise many questions about the report's feasibility, but the first question that needs to be answered is whether Bush can accept a report that so completely repudiates his repeated unrealistic assertions about the nature and progress of the war.
Americans have to hope he does -- that he is alert enough to understand that more of the same won't work any better than it has, that Americans demanded changes in last month's elections and that few other choices than a careful, strategic withdrawal are available.
An infusion of new troops to correct the administration's effort to fight this war on the cheap might have worked months or years ago. Indeed, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., continues to push for that option, but its time seems to have passed.
Bush's early response to this report is tepid, at best, but it gives him the political cover he needs to change course. With members as conservative as former attorney general Edwin Meese III and as respected as former Rep. Lee Hamilton and former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, no one from either party can claim its conclusions are driven by anything but the facts.
Many people have been trying for a long time to get through to Bush about his failed strategy, without success. Now he's been told in as blunt and as public a way as a bipartisan group possibly could. Here's hoping he's listening.