What Next In Iraq?

The Democrats' victory in the November 7 elections, the resignation the next day of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the unveiling of the Iraq Study Group report December 6 all have led le tout Washington to suppose that we would be withdrawing soon from Iraq. And not illogically. But it's looking increasingly likely that George W. Bush will decide to increase our troop presence there. It's pretty clear that he has rejected the advice of James Baker and Lee Hamilton to negotiate with the leaders of Iran and Syria and to pressure Israel to give up the Golan Heights and allow Palestinians "the right of return" to Israel--the latter being a Palestinian demand that no American administration has ever backed. Instead, he seems to be looking more favorably on the proposals by military historian Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane to create a surge of large numbers (PDF) of additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and Anbar province. Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard writes that Bush looks very favorably on the Kagan-Keane plan.

However, the Washington Post reported yesterday that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are opposed to increased troop deployments. The story suggests they are raising the same questions Colin Powell raised in his appearance Sunday on Meet the Press. An unnamed White House official spins it this way:

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said military officers have not directly opposed a surge option. "I've never heard them be depicted that way to the president," the official said. "Because they ask questions about what the mission would be doesn't mean they don't support it. Those are the kinds of questions the president wants his military planners to be asking."

This doesn't seem to be a Pentagon leak. The bylines are those of Peter Baker, the Post's lead White House reporter, and Robin Wright, who covers the diplomatic beat and foreign policy. The Joint Chiefs, it should be noted, are advisers to the president and are not in the direct chain of command, which runs from Bush to the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates to General John Abizaid of CentCom. I expect this story resulted from Baker and/or Wright trying to see whether the Joint Chiefs were taking the same view as Powell did on Sunday, with the unnamed White House official trying to suggest that even if they did that would not rule out a surge in Baghdad and then Anbar.

Many will be infuriated if Bush decides on a surge rather than a withdrawal or retreat. Here is a particularly unhinged comment from Paul Campos in the Rocky Mountain News, suggesting that Bush's advisers should be given the same treatment the British gave Admiral Byng after he failed to defeat a French fleet off Minorca (he was executed by firing squad). Campos finds it inconceivable that a surge of troops could produce a good result. But what would he do instead? The consequences of a quick withdrawal have been painted as gruesome in the ISG report and by just about everyone else. Many Democrats who enjoyed rousing crowds with calls to bring the troops home are now thinking about the consequences of an American defeat--and of being held responsible for it.

And while some had words of praise for the ISG report, few express confidence that negotiations with Iran and Syria will produce anything worthwhile. Charles Krauthammer in an address to the Foreign Policy Research Institute nails it:

As the Bush Doctrine has come under attack, there are those in America who have welcomed its apparent setbacks and defeats as a vindication of their criticism of the policy. But the problem is that that kind of vindication leaves America in a position where there are no good alternatives. The reason that there is general despir now is because if it proves to be true that the Bush Doctrine has proclaimed an idea of democratizing the Arab/Islamic world that is unattainable and undoable, then there are no remaining answers to how to counter ultimately the threat of Islamic radicalism.

It remains the only plausible answer--changing the culture of that area, no matter how slow and how difficult the process. It starts in Iraq and Lebanon, and must be allowed to proceed and not precipitate an early and premature surrender. That idea remains the only conceivable one for ultimately prevailing over the Arab Islamic radicalism that exploded upon us 9/11. Every other is a policy of retreat and defeat that would ultimately bring ruin not only on the U.S. but on the very idea of freedom.

The End of the Wahhabi Offensive?

An interesting side note from Stephen Schwartz, who converted to Islam as a result of his experiences in Bosnia. He says that Muslims in Bosnia and Serbia are rejecting the Wahhabi activists Saudi Arabia has sent there and that King Abdullah is trying, with the help of Prince Turki, who on December 15 suddenly and mysteriously resigned as Ambassador to the United States, to end Wahhabi proselytization around the world. "Many leading clerics and intellectuals among Sunni Muslims indicate that King Abdullah has effectively told the Wahhabis that they will no longer receive official subsidies and must end their violent jihad around the world." His final conclusion: "Given these developments, global eradication of the Wahhabi virus may be in sight." Good news if true.

By Michael Barone