Small steps

Congress does not need to capitulate to President Bush over the war funding bill, even though the votes to override his veto are lacking. There is no urgency yet, for one thing. It's the president who is being obstinate. Let him, over the next three weeks or so, demonstrate that he understands the need for a change in policy - then he can be presented with the money he wants.

Even then, it might make a good deal of sense for Congress to approve a short-term funding measure. The question of Iraq - and how to end America's involvement in the violence there - is such an important one that it deserves to be revisited on a regular basis. This would put the burden on the administration to demonstrate actual progress.


Yesterday, the talk around Congress was of putting together a bill with (probably nonbinding) benchmarks, designed to hold the feet of the Iraqi government to the fire - or at least near the fire. This wishy-washy idea isn't entirely a bad one - but it's a fairly indirect way of telling the president that the current course just isn't going to hack it anymore. It's already as plain as can be that the Iraqi government has accomplished very little, and that the people running it have very little interest in reconciliation with other Iraqis. Nobody needs a benchmark to understand that.

Nobody needs an "Iraq war czar," either. The difficulties in Iraq go much deeper than a perceived lack of direction in Washington. The war is the president's responsibility; bringing in a grizzled veteran to try to make things right is nothing more than a public relations distraction in the short term, and a setup for someone other than Mr. Bush to take the blame if, over the longer term, things continue to go badly.


It would be encouraging to see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice make a genuine start at finding a diplomatic way out of Iraq when she attends a regional summit in Cairo that starts today, even if it's not very likely. In the end, the only conceivable settlement in Iraq will have to be built upon the cooperation of its neighbors, and the sooner Mr. Bush recognizes that, the better.

Here are two things Congress ought to do in the meantime, but won't:

It should demonstrate unparalleled political courage by attaching a tax increase to the war funding bill to cover its cost.

And, since the Iraqi parliament plans to take July and August off, Congress could suggest to the president that American troops do the same. It would be a start, at least.