Amid the presidential campaign’s furious debate over Iraq, I reported last Sept. 20 (“Getting Out of Iraq”) about strong feeling in the policymaking apparatus to get out of Iraq in 2005 even if democracy and peace had not been achieved there. My column evoked widespread expressions of disbelief, but changes over the last six months have only strengthened the view of my Bush administration sources that the escape from Iraq should begin once a permanent government is in place in Baghdad.
The most obvious change is the improved situation on the ground in Iraq, where it is no longer preposterous to imagine local security forces in control. Subtler is the advent of Secretary of State Rice. This willowy, vulnerable-looking woman wields measurably more power than Colin Powell, the robust general who preceded her. Officials who know her well believe she favors the escape from Iraq.
“She is not controlled by the neo-cons insisting on achieving a perfect democracy before we go,” a colleague told me. That reflects not only the national consensus but also the preponderance of Republican opinion. Without debating the wisdom of military intervention in Iraq two years ago, President Bush’s supporters believe it now is time to go and leave the task of subduing the insurgents to Iraqis.
In my Sept. 20 column, I speculated that Rice would replace Powell at State, that she would be replaced as national security adviser by her deputy Stephen Hadley and that Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz would succeed Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at Defense. I was correct in two out of three, because Rumsfeld is staying on at the Pentagon.
This would be a very good thing. The action is perhaps 18 months late but better than never. If the Shiites choose to let the Kurds go their own way that really has nothing to do with us. If they don’t then they’re simply acting precisely as we have during the period of the US occupation. I don’t consider the establishment of a new Shiite government to be a particularly positive accomplishment – I don’t subscribe to the democracy fetish that insists the mere fact of voting cures all ills- but it’s certainly good to know that people are no longer being fed into paper shredders by the Hussein thugocracy. Was the war worth it? I doubt it but time will tell.
Now if we can only withdraw our troops from 100 other countries where they also don’t belong we can start to consider why federal imperialism is necessary at home. Unfortunately this move will likely have more to do with China’s recent saber-rattling than anything else.