The Neocons Are Losing

As George W. Bush gets ready to hightail it out of Iraq – or at least tries to convince the American people that’s what he’s doing with his “Iraqification” policy – the neocons are up in arms and poor little Billy Kristol is in a veritable tizzy. In a piece co-authored with Robert Kagan in the Weekly Standard, he wails that the front page of the November 7 Washington Post “says it all:

“The first headline, in large type: ‘Bush Urges Commitment to Transform Mideast.’ Below, in slightly smaller type: ‘Pentagon to Shrink Iraq Force.’ And below that: ‘Iraqi Security Crews Getting Less Training.’ It’s a jarring juxtaposition. The president eloquently makes the case for a necessarily and admirably ambitious foreign policy. Yet his own administration’s deeds threaten the achievement of his goals. “

Yes, it does seem that way, now doesn’t it? And thank God for that. No more wars in ’04 is how Karl Rove would prefer it, but the neocons never let an election get in the way of their favorite blood sport – especially if it’s Arab blood being spilled.

Now the President is going and spoiling all their fun by frantically trying to get out – all the while talking tough. Of course, Bill Kristol doesn’t have to run for reelection, so he can sit on the sidelines and criticize. But one has to admit that he makes some very good points.

First, the idea that foreign troops were going to fill in for the Americans was always an illusion. Now the Bushies are pursuing an even more elusive pipedream: “Iraqification.” But this is merely a euphemism for withdrawal, albeit at a much slower pace than would prefer.

As Kristol and Kagan correctly point out, there is no way to vet the 100,000 or so Iraqis they are promising to put in the field as police, militia, and border guards – and one mistake can be deadly. “A few weeks ago,” they write,

“A car bomb was detonated next to an Iraqi police station. The car in which the bomb was rigged was itself a police car. How did a suicide bomber get hold of a police car? Probably, someone recruited by the United States was playing a double game. It takes only a couple of mistakes in background checks to have a disaster, and that assumes you’re really conducting background checks. But such incidents will multiply as the hastily assembled and inadequately vetted Iraqi forces take the field.”

As the door hits us on our way out, the consequences may be more than a few bruises.

Forget Iraqification: let’s start talking about a rapid withdrawal.

If you read the Kristol-Kagan piece, what’s odd is that they’re beginning to sound like the Democrats as they scold the administration for not realizing what the conquest and occupation of a country entailed. They attack the Bushies’ “parsimony” – after all, what’s a mere $87 billion? – and note that “Rumsfeld remains dogmatically committed to a smaller force” in spite of the fact that we’re “losing the peace.”

If only there was a peace to win. Kristol complains that the Pentagon is dragging its feet in implementing the President’s war plans, and declares that the only acceptable exit strategy is “victory.” But what does victory look like in this context? Saddam is overthrown. Those “weapons of mass destruction” – you know, the ones that never existed – are no longer a threat, even theoretically. So why not declare victory, and bring the troops home?

For Kristol and his fellow neocons, the war has barely begun. They are openly campaigning for extending the war into Syria, Iran, and even Saudi Arabia, but is the President prepared to do that? If so, we won’t hear a word about it until after the election, of that you can be sure.

In the meantime, the Bushies want to be able to say they’re implementing an exit strategy, but then there’s the somewhat embarrassing deterioration of our strategic position in Iraq, proceeding rapidly and just in time for the start of the presidential campaign season. Because of the partisan factor, we’re seeing a very interesting turn in the debate over the war. The Democrats are becoming more interventionist, and the Republicans are at least implicitly talking about the necessity of a U.S. withdrawal, reverting – at least rhetorically – to traditional conservative “isolationism.”

Howard Dean, on the other hand, calls for an extended U.S. stay, and told the Washington Post that we would have the right to force a Constitution down the Iraqis’ throats, if necessary, since “we have the final say.” And that’s the “antiwar” candidate!

Dean is merely reiterating the mainstream Democratic party position. Senator Joe Biden has long criticized the administration for not “leveling” with the American people and “admitting” that a massive commitment in troops and treasure is inevitable. This kind of critique was echoed, the other day, by Robert Orr, in an interview on the PBS News Hour. A former member of the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration, now at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, Orr served on a Pentagon postwar assessment team, and he sounds this Kristolian warning:

“The president today named 118,000 Iraqis in uniform. When I traveled around Iraq over the summer, there were only a few thousand. One has to question what kind of training these folks have been through when, in fact, they’ve had, at most, one month worth of training. …We need to be ready to stand at their side for a while yet.”

Orr avers that the U.S. will have to be in Iraq for “a couple of years.” It’s “premature to be talking about troop withdrawals,” he says. Orr is clearly irritated by the idea that a single soldier is coming home before the Iraqis have constructed a Jeffersonian republic. “All of a sudden,” he complains,

“We’re hearing about troop withdrawals and timetables for troop withdrawal that seem to be driven more by a calendar here in the United States rather than the reality on the ground in Iraq.”

On the other hand, Jim Lehrer’s other guest, Bing West, an assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, author of The March Up: Taking Baghdad With the 1st Marine Division, takes the Republican “isolationist” position of getting out a.s.a.p. Bing is hardly a pacifist. He argues that we simply don’t need all those divisions there, patrolling “up and down the highway,” where they’re sitting ducks. This led to the following exchange:

JIM LEHRER: “What about that, Mr. West? Mr. Orr said that a couple times. This talk about troop withdrawal, get the troops out in six months or start withdrawing, taking troops or the U.S. troop strength down next year, et cetera, is sending the wrong message to the Iraqi people?”

BING WEST: “Well, I think we have to ask what is the mission? And the mission of our big battalions no longer is facing big battalions. The mission is now down to dealing with a small area in Iraq …

"For us just to be driving up and down the highway or something in presence patrols, that doesn’t make too much of a difference in that situation. And our troops don’t speak Iraqi. They’re not in there every day speaking on the street the way the Iraqi police are. So I think reasonably when Gen. Abizaid and our other generals look at this and they say, ‘We don’t need all these big battalions’ – that seems to make a lot of sense. We don’t….”

What is the mission, anyway? To the neocons, it’s “democracy” throughout the Middle East, which means an extended stay. Kristol is right: the “forward strategy” enunciated by the President in his recent speech before the National Endowment for Democracy is in direct contradiction to the administration’s actions on the ground in Iraq. The real mission in Iraq is to build a forward base to be used in a future Mideast war. “The president wants to win," says Kristol, "and the Pentagon wants to get out.” Yes, it’s those “cut and run” peaceniks over at the Pentagon, and not the antiwar movement, that has the War Party up in arms. Forget Noam Chomsky, and Robert Fisk – the real object of the neocons’ scorn these days is Donald Rumsfeld, who last week said:

“You’ve got to get the security responsibility transferred to the Iraqi people…. It’s their country…. We’re not going to provide security in their country over a sustained period of time.”

This was enough to cause conniptions over at War Party headquarters:

“On the Sunday talk shows at the beginning of last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld didn’t exactly say that we were going to run, but he certainly sounded as if he were eyeing the exits.”

Rumsfeld, West, and the officer corps – exemplified by those senior retired officers who spoke out against this war before it started – look at Iraq from a purely military point of view, and with the goal in mind of protecting their troops while carrying out a well-defined – and therefore limited – mission. Beyond that, they clearly see Baghdad as another Beirut waiting to happen. Ronald Reagan got out of Lebanon, and fast: will George W. Bush show the same wisdom? Or will we have to learn that lesson all over again?


As to the shortfall of troops, I have a solution. Now that even the Turks – who were eager to get their mits on northern Iraq and deal with their Kurdish “problem” once and for all – have been dissuaded from showing up at the party, and long troop deployments are playing havoc with the lives of our reservists, why don’t we invite the Israelis to contribute some of their troops to the occupation?

They, after all, are so much better at humiliating Arabs than we are. Why should all that accumulated experience – leveling homes and businesses, and inflicting collective punishment – go to waste? As our loyal ally, they would no doubt be more than glad to sacrifice their own sons and daughters in this dirty little war.

After all, we started it on their behalf.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was 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].