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Archive for September, 2007

Hanging the Iraq War on the Democrats

[Originally published in The Valley News.]

It is inconceivable that the president and his advisers have not reached the logical conclusion that their grandiose plans for lraq are unattainable. No serious expert on, or student of, this Iraq adventure—with the exception of those who are ideologically committed to the president’s goals—could conclude that there is any hope of political victory. At best, Iraq will become some sort of loose confederation.

It’s time to view the administration’s current Iraq policy, as well as its goals at home, very differently. Their new strategic goal must be to share responsibility for the Iraq disaster with the Democrats—or, better yet, to make them totally responsible for the disaster in the public eye.

Today’s Bush’s tactic consists of the militarily successful “surge” followed by the concerted effort now under way to convince Americans to wait, once again, for the surge to be followed by Iraqi political reconciliation—which is unlikely ever to come. “Wait” is the operative word. This policy is based on one simple premise: Bush simply is not prepared to see an “unsuccessful” conclusion of his Iraq adventure during his presidency. To do so would be an admission that the administration has no way to “succeed.” That is an unacceptable admission to a president who is inordinately concerned with his image and his legacy. This is all about presidential ego. So, he will do anything and everything to hand an unresolved Iraq over to his successor. Then the results will be the Democrats fault.

There are some Republicans in Washington who have openly stated their disagreement with Bush’s Iraq policy. There are undoubtedly others who also disagree with it but have not so declared.  It also seems likely that if that war persists until the November ‘08 elections, other Republicans will sign on against the Bush strategy. Why, then, would any congressional Republicans go along with this incredibly self-serving and dangerous Bush policy? Their only way out of the Iraq mess may be to hang it on the Democrats.

If this new Bush policy works and if Congressional Republicans hang tough and support the president, they may hope they will be able to land the entire mess in the lap of a new Democrat president.

Without support from Republicans in Congress, the Democrats do not have the votes to alter the Bush policy. President Bush is veto-proof. Despite that, the Democrats, probably in an attempt to prove to their constituents that they heard them in the last election, have refused to compromise on any issue.

Largely as a result of the Democrats’ political posturing, absolutely nothing has been accomplished, permitting Bush to push the process forward toward the desk of the next president. In the meantime, the war goes on with all the expenditures of American treasure.

The Democrats are faced with two options, both bad. They can refuse to fund the war, which would be political disaster, since that would leave our troops in limbo and would allow Republicans to claim the Democrats are unable or unwilling to deal with terrorism.

Alternatively, they can do nothing and see the war turned over to the next president—very likely to be a Democrat. And that is precisely the corner into which the Republicans are trying (so far, successfully) to paint the Democrats.

The Iraq war will very likely be judged America’s worst foreign policy disaster. In the beginning, it looked as if it would only take the Republicans down with it. But more and more, it looks as if it will be a disaster for the Democrats and our next, probably Democratic, president as well.

And that is almost certainly the Bush plan: Don’t perish alone on Iraq, take the Democrats down with you. If this proves to be the case, the Democrats will become victims of an incredibly cunning, underhanded, Machiavellian, Republican ploy that may serve the president’s interests and possibly Republican interests, but not those of the Republic.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Europe and the Middle East and as Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff. He lives in Williston, Vt.

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[Originally published in the Valley News.]

More and more today the media are reporting on the likelihood of a U.S. attack on Iran. As impossibly foolhardy as such an attack might seem, the drums of war are increasingly heard.

During the 1930s, Winston Churchill was the only prominent politician in England who spoke out against German rearmament and Hitler’s increasing belligerence. A bust of Winston Churchill adorns the Oval Office. President Bush sees himself as modern-day Churchill, waging an unpopular war in Iraq for which he will be elevated to great heights by future historians. Like Churchill, he has to keep the fight going, because he knows he is right and time will prove it. He will be a hero to future generations.

Apparently the White House staff takes every opportunity to reinforce the Churchill analogy. Supportive White House visitors are encouraged to participate in this reinforcement.  They are supporting Bush’s basic position on Iraq: The United States must remain engaged in Iraq. Everything depends on it:  the success of the “war on terror,” the democratization of the Middle East, the safety of America from terrorism, even the peace and well being of the world.

This hoped-for Bush legacy of success in Iraq and the greater Middle East is gravely threatened by the likelihood of the election of a Democratic president in 2008, which would likely result in a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. How can the president keep the United States involved and his dreams alive? The president has to make sure that America can’t withdraw from Iraq.

Perhaps the only way to do that is to get the United States into a conflict with Iran. Support for such a war today lies primarily with Israel, with Israel’s more conservative American political and religious supporters and with the neo-cons.

There are some pretty good indications that a strike against Iran might be on Bush’s mind. First and foremost is the transfer of the “Churchill syndrome” to Iran. If he keeps Iran from going nuclear, he believes, he will be revered by future generations. Besides, he has promised he would do so.

The general military, economic and political consensus is that such an attack would be a disaster not only for Iran and the United States, but also for the world in general. Forget the misery Iran could cause US troops in Iraq and our Navy in the restricted confines of the Gulf. More significantly, a glance at any map will show that Iran can easily shut down all oil shipments through the Gulf—more than a fourth of world production. That would certainly bring worldwide economic chaos.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was not nominated for a second term. It was said he would be vulnerable to a hostile pack of Democratic senators in the confirmation hearings. Perhaps, but he is on the record as having said that the United States has zero intent to attack Iran and for being opposed to any such plan.

His chosen replacement is Admiral Mike Mullin, a choice that had to be approved, if not made, by the president. Admiral Mullin has said, “Do some work on where they are, who’s trying to get nukes, who’s trying to get chemical, biological weapons, and this, some of us may have put this in the too-hard category before. We can’t afford to do that now. We have got to address this.”

Although this falls far short of a declaration of war on Iran, it certainly heading in that direction.

The U.S. Navy brass thinks it has been shortchanged in the conduct of the Iraq war and desperately wants a chance to show its stuff. In addition, the Navy has a battle plan for a missile attack on Iran. When Admiral William J. Fallon was appointed last winter to lead United States Central Command in the Middle East, analysts noted that the choice of a Navy officer reflected “a greater emphasis on countering Iranian power—a mission that relies heavily on naval forces and combat airpower to project American influence in the Persian Gulf.” These appointments don’t happen by chance.

It seems inconceivable that even such a bellicose president as Bush—a lame duck president with miserable popularity ratings—might undertake an attack on Iran prior to the 2008 presidential election. To do so would certainly seal not only the fate of the Republican candidate, but would be equally likely to doom the Republican Party to political oblivion for some time to come.

It seems far more likely that if Iran is to be attacked, it will be between the November elections and the investiture of Bush’s successor. The president has direct command authority over the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, a chain of command that would effectively circumvent a reluctant or obstructionist Secretary of Defense Gates.

Finally, the designation of the Iranian Quds force as a terrorist organization and recent incidents involving Iranians in Iraq could well be the beginning of provocations against Iran designed to create a climate more favorable for an attack.

The stars are aligning. Should the president decide to attack, there would seem to be no way to stop it.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA station chief who served in Europe and the Middle East and as chief of the counterterrorism staff. He lives in Williston, Vt.

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