Indecent Interval


By this time many people will have read Bob Novak's Sept. 20 column that leads:

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.

While Novak admits the "reality of hard decisions ahead is obscured by blather on both sides in a presidential campaign", he adds:

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.

The passage is interesting, obviously, because it posits a radical turnaround by Wolfowitz, the architect of the Iraq war and the person most associated with the notion of democratizing Iraq. I hear several alarm bells here, though, even though I could readily accept that the craven Rice would go along with any project that ensures she stays in office.

First, why would Wolfowitz be promoted if George W. Bush considers Iraq such a fiasco? What sense does it make to have the architect of Iraq face what would surely be a hostile congressional hearing? Having said that, if Wolfowitz is in line with a cut-and-run strategy, we will surely begin hearing that he only "did" Iraq to ensure that Israel would get Saddam out of the way. Personally, I don't think he's a liar on Iraqi democracy, and do think that if Iraq keels over, he will pretty much be history.

Second, what does Novak mean with the sources "are confidant"? Isn't that a way of saying that they just don't know, therefore that they are guessing? But if they aren't guessing, could they have an ulterior motive? And what's a "well-placed source" anyway? If it's someone at the State Department, for example, or even on the military side of the Pentagon, this could certainly temper the veracity of the quotes.

Third, if Bush is opting for a radical change in policy, then why keep on Hadley and Wolfowitz (above and beyond the Iraq setbacks)? If you're pulling out of Iraq, then you're also pulling out of the Middle East in a way. That means changing those national security people who all along recommended you go into the region. Real change means someone like Dick Lugar at State and some reliable old pro at Defense, someone reminiscent of a Frank Carlucci or a William Perry.

Finally, Novak ignores what cutting and running actually means in Iraq. He mentions civil war as if it were easily navigable for the U.S. It would be a major disaster, far worse than what we have now. What may ensue is a regional conflict, as all sides defend their interests–the Turks against the Kurds, the Iranians to protect their Shiite friends, the Saudis to help the Sunnis, the Syrians to weaken their own Kurds, but also avoid an Israeli attack against them to the east, perhaps through Lebanon, etc. Surely, the administration cannot be so irresponsible as to leave such a mess behind, especially if terrorists are seen to thrive in an Iraq where it's truly all against all.