Last Thursday, word spread across Washington that U.S. trade rep Robert Zoellick would become Condi Rice’s No. 2 at State.
This was followed by word that State’s super-hawk, John Bolton, whom neoconservatives had touted for No. 2, would be leaving “for the private sector.”
In a Friday Washington Post piece, “Wolf at the Door,” Al Kamen reported the “buzz” that Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz had gone to see the president to tell him Wolfowitz would be leaving Defense. Wolfowitz hastily denied the report.
Friday’s Washington Times carried a report that neocon Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s intelligence chief, “is thinking about private-sector employment.”
The neoconservative hour may be coming to an end in the Bush era. Reason: The cakewalk war they plotted long before 9/11, on which their dreams of Middle East empire and reputations hang, has gone awry.
A year ago, Gen. John Abizaid said he faced 5,000 insurgents. He has now raised that to 20,000, though U.S. forces have killed and captured thousands of enemy in the last year. Iraqi intelligence chief Gen. Abdullah al-Shahwani now claims enemy fighters may number 30,000.
Call them Ba’athists, Saddamites, jihadis, insurgents they have shown a disposition to fight, despite their inferiority in armor and weapons, that our Iraqi allies have not. And they appear to have an ample supply of men willing to give their lives in suicide bombings.
While the Iraqi army and police have fought often and suffered much, they have yet to show the same aggressiveness as the insurgents. Rarely does one read of our Iraqi allies initiating an attack. In Mosul, 80 percent of the Iraqi police deserted or defected under fire. America may not be losing this war, but we are not winning it, with three times as many enemy attacks every day now as a year ago.
Elections are now three weeks away. But Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, U.S. ground commander, says four provinces including Baghdad are still unsafe for voting. And Rumsfeld is sending retired Gen. Gary Luck to Iraq to conduct an “open-ended review” of U.S. war policy.
Dissent in the U.S. establishment is growing louder. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to George H.W. Bush, fears the elections, by giving the Shia majority dominance of Iraqi politics, could lead to “incipient civil war.” Scowcroft thinks America’s best bet may be to turn Iraq over to the United Nations or NATO, whose presence might be less detested and inflammatory than our own.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, seems even more pessimistic: “I do not think we can stay in Iraq in the fashion we are now in. … If it cannot be changed drastically, it should be terminated.” Brzezinski estimates it would take 500,000 troops, $500 billion, and resumption of the draft to pacify Iraq.
Indeed, if there are 30,000 enemy fighters in Iraq, the United States, with 150,000 troops in country, lacks the forces to defeat them. By the old measure of guerrilla war, a defender needs a 10-to-one advantage.
If the insurgents can put 10,000 more fighters into the field, we would then need 400,000 troops to defeat them. It is difficult to believe President Bush intends any such commitment.
Thus, all now depends on the Iraqis for it is, after all, their country and future. But, while the Shia and Kurds may be willing to fight for a government that empowers the Shia and gives Kurds the autonomy they have long sought, why should Sunnis fight for a regime that dispossesses them of the position and power they have held since Ottoman days?
And so reality intrudes. Where once Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, and Bush marched in lockstep with the neocons, U.S. national interests and Bush political interests seem now to diverge from the neocon agenda of more troops in Iraq and expanding the war to Syria or Iran. Rumsfeld appears to have recognized this truth and begun to act on it. Hence, The Weekly Standard calls for his firing.
President Bush now approaches the crossroads LBJ reached in December 1967. Then, Gen. William Westmoreland came home to tell LBJ he needed 200,000 more troops, in addition to the 500,000 already committed. A war-weary LBJ said no. Came then the Tet Offensive, and the presidency of Lyndon Johnson was broken.
Bush is nearing his Tet moment. After the Jan. 30 elections, he will have three options. Persevere in a no-win war with 150,000 U.S. troops bleeding indefinitely, until America turns on him, his policy, and his party. Send in tens of thousands of fresh U.S. troops to crush the insurgency, as we undertake a years-long program of training Iraqis to defend their own democracy. Third, find an honorable exit, and leave Iraq to the Iraqis.
The success or failure of the Bush presidency will likely hang on his decision. For which he can thank the neoconservatives.