Monday, September 20, 2004

Run Away! Run Away!

Robert Novak's latest column is another example of dubious rumor and gossip; but at least he doesn't confuse his column with hard news.

Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are saying: Ready or not, here we go.

This prospective policy is based on Iraq's national elections in late January, but not predicated on ending the insurgency or reaching a national political settlement. Getting out of Iraq would end the neoconservative dream of building democracy in the Arab world. The United States would be content having saved the world from Saddam Hussein's quest for weapons of mass destruction.

...Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.

Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.

Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out.

The end product would be an imperfect Iraq, probably dominated by Shia Muslims seeking revenge over long oppression by the Sunni-controlled Baathist Party. The Kurds would remain in their current semi-autonomous state. Iraq would not be divided, reassuring neighboring countries -- especially Turkey -- that are apprehensive about ethnically divided nations.

This messy new Iraq is viewed by Bush officials as vastly preferable to Saddam's police state, threatening its neighbors and the West. In private, some officials believe the mistake was not in toppling Saddam but in staying there for nation building after the dictator was deposed.

Abandonment of building democracy in Iraq would be a terrible blow to the neoconservative dream. The Bush administration's drift from that idea is shown in restrained reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin's seizure of power. While Bush officials would prefer a democratic Russia, they appreciate that Putin is determined to prevent his country from disintegrating as the Soviet Union did before it. A fragmented Russia, prey to terrorists, is not in the U.S. interest.

The problem with this hot scoop is that we've been hearing it for two years. It's only newsworthy if supposed stalwarts have now switched sides, and since Novak won't name his sources, there's no way to be sure.
From the substance, I'd say its the same old chappelle with its roots in the State Dept. exaggerating its influence.

For one thing, there's no indication that Secys. Powell and Rumsfeld would both leave office; or that if they did, Dr. Rice would move from NSA to Secy. of State. The experience of the first term would suggest she wouldn't; she has many positive qualities but diplomatic tact isn't one of them, and the role of the Secy. of State in this Administration has been to soothe allies rubbed raw by Bush's insistence on morality in foriegn policy.

For another, nobody competent in military affairs would presume to put words in the mouths of the JCS two months in advance.

And finally, Russia is not in danger of breaking up and Putin's demands for centralization of authority are more about convenience than necessity; and US recognition of our impotence to directly alter this reorganization is not an abandonment of the democratic ideal.

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