With plummeting morale among the soldiers in Iraq, and dive-bombing poll numbers at home, the administration is planning a gradual reduction in U.S. occupation forces – or are they?

The Washington Post announced the “exit strategy” in a front page story in Sunday’s edition: if all goes according to plan, we can look forward to “fewer than 100,000” by next summer and a mere 50,000 by mid-2005. The catch is that, as the Post reports,

“Officials involved in the discussions about troop reductions insist that implementation will be dictated not by a set timetable, but by security conditions in Iraq.”

If that’s true, then the road to implementing this exit plan is going to be a lot bumpier, and longer, than presently anticipated, because security conditions are getting more tenuous, not less: both the level of violence and the sophistication of the attacks are on the upswing. As are efforts to spread the war beyond the boundaries of Iraq by restive neoconservatives….

Seen as the record of an increasingly bitter faction fight within the administration, the twists and turns of U.S. policy in the region begin to make some sense. When Dubya first came into office, the foreign policy “realists” were in charge, all set to implement the promised “humility” of a reluctant hegemon awed by its own unprecedented power. It was then that the President first started to tilt toward a Palestinian state, and, by endorsing the Mitchell Commission, began to put pressure on our troublesome Israeli allies to get with the “humility” program. (Fat chance!)

9/11 ended all that, and, in a matter of hours, handed policy-making over to the wackiest of the neocons. They were in the saddle in the entire period leading up to the invasion and conquest of Iraq, a period that reached a weird climax with the famous Power Point presentation sponsored by the Defense Policy Board formerly chaired by uber-hawk Richard Perle, at which Laurent Murawiec, a former longtime associate of Lyndon LaRouche, declared:

  • Iraq is the tactical pivot
  • Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot
  • Egypt the prize

Murawiec urged that we threaten to incinerate Medina and Mecca, eventually take over Saudi Arabia, and move to subjugate the entire Middle East. Slate columnist Jack Shafer scoffed, at the time, that “it sounds a tad loopy, even by Dr. Strangelove standards,” but today, as a concerted propaganda campaign by elements within the U.S. government targeting the Saudis, the Syrians, and the Iranians is well underway, it looks like Dr. Strangelove is still riding high in this administration – even if he hasn’t quite yet won the day.

Since the American “victory” unraveled, along with the case for war, the neocons have run for cover – but they haven’t retreated. Far from it. American policy in the Middle East is running on two tracks, the official administration track of implementing an orderly exit strategy, and the neocon track, which is rapidly propelling us into an armed conflict with Iran, Syria, and Lebanon; in short, with Israel’s remaining enemies in the region.

Michael Ledeen, author of The Terror Masters, and for years head of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), now with the American Enterprise Institute, is leading the charge of the neocon brigade, with a series of allegations so fantastic that merely repeating them is enough to discredit them.

According to an item in Newsweek, he claims that 1) his old friend Manucher Ghorbanifar led him to an informant who knows where enriched uranium is hidden in Iraq and Iran, 2) the latter is on the verge of going nuclear, and 3) as Newsweek reports:

“One of Ghorbanifar’s contacts recently asked U.S. officials for $250,000 to gather information in Tehran to foil a terror attack on the United States, scheduled for about Nov. 23 through Nov. 25 of this year, that would be ‘bigger’ than 9/11. Ghorbanifar claims post-9/11 anthrax letters originated in Iran and that if the U.S. or Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, the ayatollahs will attack Israel with chemical and biological weapons. “

Newsweek goes on to note that “CIA spokesman Bill Harlow reaffirmed that the agency considers Ghorbanifar ‘a fabricator’ who sought to sell fake information for cash.” Ghorbanifar may be a liar, but on whose behalf is he lying?

Understanding the Ledeen-Ghorbanifar connection is key to putting this latest neocon maneuver in context. As the Report of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair revealed, Ledeen, then working for the National Security Council, served as the liaison with the government of Israel in arranging the sale of weapons to Iran in return for the release of the American hostages held in Tehran. Ledeen and Ghorbanifar – a former Iranian SAVAK agent with close ties to Israeli intelligence – were the chief instigators of the deal. That same congressional report recommended that U.S. intelligence agencies sever their ties with both Ledeen and Ghorbanifar, but now that the neocons are back in the saddle in Washington these two are back in vogue, peddling Israeli propaganda gussied up as “intelligence.”

If either Ledeen or Ghorbanifar have information about a terrorist attack planned for “about Nov. 23 through Nov. 25,” then why don’t they come forward with the information? The clock, it would seem, is ticking. Besides being of rather dubious provenance, such a proposal – give me a quarter mil and I’ll tell you how to avert a catastrophe “bigger than 9/11” – seems in rather poor taste.

It’s all on a par with Ghorbanifar’s tall tale about Libyan hit squads stalking the U.S., which somehow never materialized. The same lie factory that churned out forged documents “proving” that Iraq had procured enriched uranium in the African nation of Niger, that pushed the totally nonexistent Al-Qaeda-Ba’athist connection – and that is now backpedaling furiously, claiming we never said the threat from Iraq was “imminent” – is going into overdrive. Their aim: escalate and extend the war before the withdrawal from Iraq can begin.

There is one and only one strategic value to maintaining a U.S. military presence in Iraq, and that is as a forward base in a regional war. If we don’t get out, we will go on – and the longer we stay in, the more likely such a prospect becomes. That is why it’s necessary to bring the U.S. occupation to a close a.s.a.p., a goal that the more rational elements among U.S. conservatives have finally mobilized behind. But it may be too late. The idea is already taking hold – among wooly-headed liberals, as well as hard-headed conservatives – that we can’t get out now, because Iraq will become “a magnet for terrorists.” As if it isn’t already.

The idea that we can invade a country, conquer it, and then not incur any blowback is uniquely American in its “who me?” naivete. The advocates of a war policy that has turned into an unmitigated disaster are now trying to lay the consequences of their insane policies at the feet of the Peace Party, but it won’t work. We can only worsen the effects of their failed policy by pursuing it to the bitter end. The consequences of our errors cannot be avoided, but they can be mitigated to some extent if we’ll just admit our mistake, back up, and go in the opposite direction – the direction of peace.

You want a “responsible” exit strategy? Hold elections before the year is out – they’re sure to be at least as fair as Florida’s – reconstitute the Iraqi army, and turn the whole thing over to the new Iraqi government on January 1. We can start out the New Year on a fresh note by declaring victory – and going home. The last GI should be home by Christmas.

Otherwise, there will be no end to our involvement – no way to extricate ourselves from the Middle Eastern quagmire that will envelop us almost before we realize we are sunk.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].