While Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's continued
tenure in office has been the subject of a surge of speculation over the past
week, it may be George W. Bush's continued reign at least over Iraq policy
that appears most endangered at the moment.
While no one is talking about a classic "coup d'etat" against the
U.S. president, as is being rumored about the increasingly hapless and seemingly
helpless Maliki in Baghdad, Bush's mantra about "staying the course"
in Iraq is now seen as so delusory as to require some form of serious adult
"Plan B" that is, anything but "staying the course"
has been on the lips of virtually every foreign policy analyst who considers
him or herself worthy of the name this past week when, it seemed, the entire
capital appeared to decide that whatever the U.S. has been doing in Iraq for
the past three months, six months, or three years is failing, and failing spectacularly.
The somber tone of this week's military briefings in Iraq certainly reflected
that view as active-duty senior officers who finally went public with their
Indeed, the fact that the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Peter
Pace, earlier this month launched a comprehensive, 60-day review of Iraq strategy
belied Bush's notion that the current strategy is fundamentally sound.
Even a few of the war's most enthusiastic neoconservative supporters have come
to admit that it may in fact have been a serious strategic mistake, although
they seem determined still to stave off the growing consensus even among
Republican circles in favor of some kind of timetable for withdrawal.
"The Iraq war was a mistake," wrote hard-line war hawk Jonah Goldberg
in the Los Angeles Times Thursday, suggesting that Iraqis hold a special
plebiscite on whether they want the U.S. to withdraw from their country.
"That the Iraq war is, if not a failure, failing, requires little demonstration,"
conceded Eliot Cohen, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board (DPB),
in a column entitled "Plan B" published in the Wall Street Journal
Cohen, whose 2002 book, Supreme
Command, about how the West's greatest civilian wartime leaders constantly
ignored or overruled their military commanders received widespread publicity
when Bush took it on vacation with him several months before the Iraq invasion,
argued that the loss in "American prestige" resulting from the Iraq
adventure is such that it "will not be restored without a considerable
and successful use of American military power down the road."
Not only have some 16,000 U.S. troops detailed to keep the peace in Baghdad
failed to stop sectarian bloodletting in the capital itself, but they have also
shown themselves less able to protect themselves from increasingly potent and
sophisticated insurgent and militia attacks.
At some 75 military deaths so far, October is well on the way to becoming one
of the deadliest months for U.S. forces since the invasion more than three years
ago. And the sacrifice implied by those deaths is increasingly under question
here both among the public at large and the elite given the growing unanimity
among experts, many of whom still resisted the proposition as recently as last
month, that Iraq has reached a state of civil war.
"Almost all the indicators in Iraq point south, and America may already
have passed the make-or-break point in its intervention there," noted an
article in the well-respected National Journal published Friday entitled
The gloom not to say growing desperation regarding the situation in Iraq
is, of course, compounded not only by the relentless daily media reports cataloguing
yet more violence in Iraq, and the Maliki government's failure or inability
to do anything about it, but also by the sense that the man at the top here,
George W. Bush, either doesn't understand how bad the situation has become or
is so stubborn and lacking in self-confidence that he wouldn't admit it if he
In his latest book, aptly titled State
of Denial, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward recounted a
White House meeting late last year with Republican lawmakers during which Bush,
a football cheerleader during his university years, tried to quell any doubts
about his determination to prevail in Iraq. "I will not withdraw even if
(First Lady) Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me," he told
them. Barney is his dog.
That declaration may have sounded vaguely Churchillian and inspiring to his
audience back then. But, given the blindingly obvious deterioration of the situation
in Iraq and the growing conviction among political pros here that the Republicans
will lose up to 40 seats and their control of the House of Representatives and
may even lose their majority in the Senate in the Nov. 7 mid-term elections
it is likely to sound stupid, even suicidal, to the same audience today.
Hence the sudden rise in talk not just about a coup d'etat in Baghdad that
could somehow produce a new political leadership capable of pacifying the country
either through appeasement or ruthless repression (either of the Sunni
insurgency or of the Shi'ite militias) but about effective "regime
change" at home, as well.
Of course, a Democratic sweep in Congress could produce a new political context
here. Indeed, a growing number of analysts believe that major Republican losses
will result at the very least in the long-awaited departure of Pentagon chief
But, by itself, Rumsfeld's departure guarantees nothing in terms of a change
of strategy, and, given the Democrats' own disunity on Iraq and their relative
spinelessness until recently in challenging the basic premises as opposed
to competence of Bush's foreign policy since 9/11, a number of foreign policy
heavyweights, most of them Republican "realists," are suggesting some
serious "adult supervision" of the president after the elections,
whether he likes it or not.
Indeed, none other than Harlan Ullman, a defense expert who coined the idea
of "shock and awe" in military strategy, noted in his column in the
Washington Times last week that Bush's stubbornness represented a real
obstacle to sensible policies not just in Iraq, but in East Asia, where North
Korea's recent nuclear test has been seen as yet another major Bush failure,
"Since Mr. Bush is so adamant in his views, perhaps a 'council of elders'
could persuade him to reconsider," wrote Ullman, who suggested that Senate
Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner, former secretaries of state George
Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Democratic national security advisor Zbigniew
Brzezinski could be involved in a concerted effort to "convince the president
to appreciate the possibility that many of our policies are failing or founding
and, unless we take new directions, events in East Asia could follow the disastrous
trajectory of what is happening in the greater Middle East."
Such a group, he suggested, should also include former secretary of state James
Baker, who now heads the bipartisan, Congressionally-created Iraq Study Group
(ISG) the fast-growing focus of dwindling hope for a miracle cure for Iraq
and has, like Warner, already made clear that "staying the course"
is not a viable option.
That has also become the refrain of a rapidly growing number of panicked Republican
incumbents who are ostentatiously distancing themselves from the Bush mantra
in hopes of extending their political life expectancy.
(Inter Press Service)