Today the choice facing Washington is not quite as stark as the one that confronted Lyndon Johnson in 1965, but it is close. Mr. Gates has spent the last nine months working as a member of the Iraq Study Group, whose much awaited recommendations will be revealed next Wednesday. Getting out is the simplest remedy, but no one wants to shoulder the blame for what follows. Staying the course has already been rejected by the president. That leaves only some kind of altered or renewed effort to postpone the day of reckoning. Defeating the insurgents is only half of the challenge; harder will be finding some way to restrain or disband the Shiite militias without bringing them into the war against us. Down that road would lie a spiraling conflict as protracted and unwinnable as the war in Vietnam. The Republicans may have lost the midterm elections, but to my ear, on the subject of Iraq, the president has never sounded ready to accept anything that might be called defeat. Iraq is not Vietnam, but we are the same. We find ourselves, at a parallel moment, militarily committed to a policy on the verge of conspicuous failure. The American people, now as then, are unsettled by the phrase “cut and run” and reluctant to put their judgment ahead of the president’s. Above all, American presidents are the same. Bad news from Baghdad and opposition at home may point to a lowering of expectations, at the very least, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Presidents take failure personally, can lift their voices above the din of opponents, and can use the immense power of their office to force events in the directions they choose. The verdict of the elections was clear. The public wants to let Iraqis handle their own troubles from here on out, while we start bringing our soldiers home. But that’s not what President Bush has said he wants, so there will very likely be a series of fights over Iraq that will extend to the president’s last day in office. Robert Gates is smart, quiet, dogged and loyal: a well-considered choice for defense secretary by a president determined to bring home that “coonskin on the wall,” to borrow a phrase made memorable by an earlier president in a similar fix, Lyndon Johnson.I agree with Mr. Powers that this is indeed the most likely outcome. The one possibility I hadn't thought of is that our actions might bring the Shia into the war against us; oh my, and I thought I was pessimistic.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
What Will Bush Do About Iraq?
Thomas Powers writes on intelligence and has an interesting Op-Ed in today's New York Times. It points to the past stubborness of presidents faced with bad war options like Johnson in Vietnam. It points to Robert Gates' role in facilitating the secret war against the Contras even after Congress had passed the Boland amendment trying to stop it and how Gates proved a loyal CIA soldier for two presidents. Powers concludes: