P ublic opinion and the open dissent of more and more Republican senators are forcing the Bush administration to reconsider its military strategy in Iraq — and its vague, dilatory timetable for troop reductions. The time has come for President Bush to face reality. The key decisions he must make now are not about staying the course, but about the best ways to reduce the numbers and the combat role of US troops. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq is now in its fifth year. The military cannot sustain current force rotations beyond next spring and the benchmarks for progress set out in legislation this past spring are not being met. The need to craft the least calamitous exit strategy cannot be postponed any longer. Indeed, the longer Bush refuses to start planning for the endgame in Iraq, the narrower the options and the more daunting the task.

America’s time as an occupying power in Iraq has run out. Bush should now follow the advice of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. He should seek agreement from the surrounding powers to act in their own interest by combating Al Qaeda militants, in helping end the violence, and in assisting with reconciliation and rehabilitation. This will require the kind of deal-making with nasty neighbours that Bush has so far rejected. But he has no other options.