July 31, 2005
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Sunday, July 31, 2005

U.S. losing aversion to talk of Iraq exit
Is this Rumsfeld? He beams as Iraqi leader calls for speedy departure of coalition forces

It was a remarkable scene Wednesday in Baghdad. There was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld beaming as interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari made his government's position clear:

"The great desire of the Iraqi people is to see the coalition forces be on their way out as they take more responsibility," said Mr. Jafari. "We have not limited to a certain schedule, but we confirm and we desire speed in that regard."

Within moments Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, chimed in: "If the political process continues to go positively and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going, I do believe we'll still be able to take some fairly substantial reductions after these elections in the spring and summer."

Nobody countermanded the commander in chief's well-known aversion to a hard deadline for beginning American withdrawal (although ironically enough Mr. Rumsfeld strongly urged the Iraqis to stick to various hard deadlines, beginning with an August 15 one to draft a constitution). Gen. Casey seemed to be advancing at least a soft deadline. And that's not a bad development.

Administration officials have taken to talking about "a global struggle against violent extremism" rather than a "global war on terror." Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Richard Myers specifically objected to the term "war on terror" in an appearance last Monday, "because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution." Gen. Myers thinks the solution "is more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military."

All this suggests that the government is finally recognizing a few realities that have been obvious to critics of the war in Iraq for some time. The insurgency or terror campaign in Iraq has not abated over the past year, and it seems unlikely that U.S. forces will get it under control. That is in part because the very presence of U.S. troops in Iraq serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists. Things might continue or become more violent for a while when U.S. troops leave. But foreign troops cannot control this campaign of terror bombing.

The ongoing commitment in Iraq has also hurt military recruiting and reduced U.S. capacity to respond to potential crises in other parts of the world. It has proven to be inordinately expensive. And while it may lead to a reasonably stable regime in Iraq that does not threaten its neighbors, it is unlikely to create a model democracy that will lead to liberal democracies throughout the Middle East. Reality bites back.

These are welcome signs of a new recognition of reality in Washington. If they are followed by a more thoroughgoing reconsideration of the policy of intervening in regional quarrels that do not affect core American interests, that would be even more welcome.

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