Bob Novak’s column Monday isn’t quite conclusive, but you can bet he is ahead of the pack in sniffing out the Bush team’s recognition that it will have to pull all the U.S. troops out of Iraq next year. All of them: "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."
Novak is correct that Team Bush will have to deny a "cut-and-run" decision is in the early planning stages, but behind all the happy talk from the president about the progress being made, it looks like the "insurgents" have won.
There is still happy talk of national elections in January, but it should be clear from the current level of violence that the chances of safe polling places being open in the Sunni triangle are dwindling to zero. The nationalist fervor that is fueling the insurgency will not in any case recognize elections being run by the handpicked "interim government" of Iyad Allawi. There is now a civil war in Iraq, with the Iraqi people on one side and the Allawi puppet government, backed by the U.S., on the other. Novak writes:
"Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.
"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.
"Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out."
Condi Rice as SecState and Paul Wolfowitz as SecDef in a second Bush administration? That prospect alone should scare folks into voting for Senator Kerry, and I would assume Republican leadership in the Senate would tell the president to forget about it. Chairman Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday pronounced the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq "incompetent."
The Novak column says "the Kerry campaign is not equipped to make sober evaluations of Iraq. When I asked a Kerry political aide what his candidate would do in Iraq, he could do no better than repeat the old saw that help is on the way from European troops. Kerry’s foreign policy advisers know there will be no release from that quarter." My guess is now that Novak has broken the ice, there will be further recognition in the political class that the neoconservative dream of an imperial outpost in Baghdad has gone up in smoke.