NEW YORK (CNN) -- The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former 9/11 Commission Co-Chair, Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, has been at work for eight months to develop an assessment of the war in Iraq and new policy recommendations.
But yesterday the president's nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, Robert Gates, gave a clear assessment of the war. When the soon-to-be-chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, asked the former CIA chief whether the United States was winning, Gates answered directly and straightforwardly, "No, sir."
Gates' answer is far more important to future U.S. strategy than whether one considers the violence in Iraq to be sectarian or an outright civil war. And Gates made clear during his confirmation hearings that, unlike his predecessor, he would be open to ideas about American policy in Iraq.
But there are fundamental realities that we all have to acknowledge about this administration's conduct of the war in Iraq. Those realities have been ignored by both this administration and most Democrats and Republicans in Congress. And just in case the Iraq Study Group ignores those realities, I'd like to offer a few for your consideration.
While many of our elected officials and the national media have focused on whether or not Iraq is now in a civil war, the real questions are: What is our national interest in the Middle East and why are we expending thousands of precious lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to pursue obviously failed strategies?
Nearly 3,000 of our troops have been killed since the beginning of the war in Iraq; all but 139 of them after President Bush stood below a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished." More than 21,000 troops have been wounded, and of those about 10,000 of were so seriously wounded they could not return to duty within three days.