"[BUSH] MIGHT REDEFINE SUCCESS AND ANNOUNCE A QUICKER EXIT STRATEGY."
The bloody events in Iraq over the past month have raised the specter of another huge American disaster, the possibility that after again spending blood and huge treasure we will have to get out of Iraq without leaving a stable democratic government and the Middle East transformed--at least not in the way the Administration expected. As uncertainty rises in the U.S. about what we are doing in Iraq, the bipartisan consensus insists that we must "stay the course" because failure to do so will have "catastrophic" consequences for the U.S. and Iraq.
It is too early to declare that we will be unsuccessful in Iraq if we strenuously persist in pursuing important goals. But the basis for believing these can be achieved is eroding. There is a growing belief in the U.S. that we do not know what we are doing in Iraq, that the U.S. is drifting and losing Iraqi support, and to use another once familiar term, that we are in a "quagmire." Regrettably, there is reason for the increasing skepticism. The Administration's basis for going to war has come to look shaky, and it clearly had little idea of what to expect beyond destroying the Saddam regime. We are trying to create a radically different state in a place we have little understanding of and were effectively cut off from for 15 years. We are supposedly turning over "sovereignty" in less than three months, but we are not sure to whom.
It is tempting to believe, as many on both sides of the aisle apparently do, that we can achieve success by turning the military task over to NATO or by relying on the U.N. to fashion an Iraqi government. But NATO is not going to supply many troops in continuing hostilities. As for the U.N., its capacity at this juncture to shape the political future of Iraq is equally dubious. It has had a checkered history in Iraq, and the Iraqi parties struggling for power are not overly concerned about any international legitimacy the U.N. might confer.
At some point the President may have to consider different approaches. He might redefine success and announce a quicker exit strategy that would include early elections, the complete turnover of political rule and military security to an Iraqi government, and the removal of all U.S. forces within a year. Such a policy would still require spending lots of money, time and diplomatic effort on our part pulling in more help from our allies. But it also bows to the realities of our predicament and probably gives the Iraqis greater urgency to form their own government, however democratic or parlous. A deadline for reducing our involvement might also win us greater international support.