Yesterday, David Ignatius, op-ed columnist for the Washington Post, offered an excellent piece, "A Road Map Home," in praise of the realism and diplomatic efforts of Ambassador Khalilzad and the Bush adminstration in working toward an endgame in Iraq.

Ignatius highlights:

"Reconciliation sounds fine in principle, but in practice it can be agonizing. I asked Khalilzad how he would answer members of Congress who are indignant that insurgents who opposed the U.S. occupation might be pardoned by the Iraqi government."

'"Ending a war is as difficult as fighting a war," Khalilzad went on. He noted that many conflicts in American history have ended with a general or partial amnesty -- from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Civil War to the U.S. Army's battle against insurgents in the Philippines. "To end a war, you must balance the requirements of reconciliation with the requirements of justice," he explained."

Ignatius asserts that the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a key victory in "[t]he political-military strategy embraced by Khalilzad and Casey over the past year [that] has combined aggressive military operations against die-hard insurgent groups with outreach to elements of the Sunni insurgency that (in theory) can be co-opted."

After the death of Zarqawi, the ambassador claims significant progress toward that end, reports Ignatius.

Ignatius in conclusion:

"Listening to America's ultra-realist ambassador, it's obvious that the buzzwords of the Washington political debate...don't have much relevance for what the generals and diplomats are trying to achieve. This messy war won't end with a victory parade but with a process that is messy itself -- slow, precarious, ambiguous. But the alternative is an open-ended U.S. military occupation of Iraq that nobody wants. As Khalilzad put it: "If you don't want reconciliation, it means you must fight on.'"

In addition to Ignatius's analysis, I will add some of my own thoughts:

Recently, the word "timetable" has claimed center stage in any discussion of Iraq. Does the President have a timetable? YES. Although the WH denies a timetable, any serious reading of the situation in Iraq and Washington leads to only one conclusion:

Iraq must be wrapped-up by January 20, 2009. The Bush braintrust is big on presidential history (especially that of Bush-41). They have taken great pains to avoid the missteps of the father, and they understand that unfinished business is risky business (for example: see Saddam and Somalia).

Prediction: President Bush will not leave Iraq in the lurch. The coming congressional campaign season will see quiet progress on the civil side of things, which will allow for moderate draw-downs of US troops.

Then, in the weeks and months after the election, President Bush and the USA will "get bloody." In a similar move to the assault on Fallujah in November of 2004 after the presidential election, I expect the President to make one final push for military supremacy in Iraq.

The President is never going to face another American election. This is an advantage for him. His legacy depends on victory in Iraq. All he needs to do is win. On the other hand, President Bush's moment is drawing to a close. After the Congressional election, the remainder of his term will be measured in months.

He must defeat the insurgency before they (the insurgents) come to view him as a lame duck. The USA may have won the war in Iraq with the re-election of President Bush in 2004. An insurgency is hard-pressed to wait-out an American president for four years. But if the USA does not deliver the knock-out punch early on in 2007, the insurgency will see a light at the end of the tunnel.

What goes without saying, of course, is that no future president, Republican or Democrat, will be invested in this war like George Bush. No successor to Bush will feel the press of history in the same way that the President copes with that oppressive sense of urgency and necessity every day of his administration.