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Friday, January 14, 2005

Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien 

Courtesy of our valiant colleagues at Cursor: Brent Scowcroft, Republican Congressman Howard Coble and a group of sixteen House Democrats have already suggested that it is not too soon to begin planning for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq -- but who cares what they think? On the other hand, if anyone has the Dauphin's ear, it is Bush family consigliere and hired Saudi mouthpiece James Baker, best known to cinephiles as the real-life inspiration for the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction, and in the last few days even he has begun dropping gentle hints that it might be time to cut bait:
"Any appearance of a permanent occupation will both undermine domestic support here in the United States and play directly into the hands of those in the Middle East who -- however wrongly -- suspect us of imperial design," Baker said Tuesday in a speech at Rice University in Houston.

Baker couched his remarks by saying that any such withdrawal should happen only if the security situation improves and once Iraqi forces are ready . . . .

Critics of the war say its cost in U.S. lives, dollars and credibility outweigh any possible benefit of staying the course. They argue that the troops' presence is actually making the violence in Iraq worse.

"Some people are predicting all hell is going to break loose. I say all hell has already broken loose," said Ivan Eland, senior fellow and director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland.
(N.B.: when Mr. Baker says "design," he plainly means it in the dictionary sense of "aggressive or evil intent"; we do not believe for a minute that even our most hardened enemies could still suspect us of having "an underlying scheme that governs functioning, developing, or unfolding; a plan or protocol for accomplishing or carrying out something.")

But the question is: will the Dauphin take the hint -- or, to put it more precisely, is the Dauphin constitutionally capable of taking the hint? A widely-quoted item in the Nelson Report suggests that the Optimist-in-Chief, who very much admires the doughnut, does not much enjoy the company of Pessimists who might point out the hole; the prerequisite for Mr. Bush's bliss, in other words, is its familiar aphoristic equivalent. That assessment is reinforced by the following brief snippet from the Financial Times:
One counterinsurgency expert said Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, had a "brutally accurate" picture of the situation and the potential dangers.

But a member of an influential neoconservative policy group said that such warnings "stop well short of the president".

He said Mr Rumsfeld, criticised for the conduct of the war, had an interest in hiding the true picture from the president.

According to Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and head of the independent Middle East Policy Council, Mr Bush recently asked Mr Powell for his view on the progress of the war. "We're losing," Mr Powell was quoted as saying. Mr Freeman said Mr Bush then asked the secretary of state to leave.
One area in which Mr. Bush remains invincibly optimistic: his own opinion of the job he's done. Asked several months ago, at the presidential debates, to name three mistakes he had made since taking office, the President could think of none, and he has only now conceded that certain of his more notable rhetorical flourishes ("Bring 'em on" and "Wanted -- Dead or Alive") were not, in retrospect, as felicitous as they seemed at the time. "So put that down," he told a group of reporters yesterday. "I don't know if you'd call that a confession, a regret, something."

But instead of focusing on the death, the destruction, the torture, the lies, the war crimes, the squandered billions, and the complete loss of America's international credibility, let us follow the President's Merceresque example and accentuate the positive. Mr. Bush always said that he wanted to "transform" Iraq, to make it an "example" for the rest of the Middle East, and in that he has succeeded spectacularly -- though not, perhaps, in the precise way that he anticipated:
Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries" . . . .

"At the moment," NIC Chairman Robert L. Hutchings said, Iraq "is a magnet for international terrorist activity."

Before the U.S. invasion, the CIA said Saddam Hussein had only circumstantial ties with several al Qaeda members. Osama bin Laden rejected the idea of forming an alliance with Hussein and viewed him as an enemy of the jihadist movement because the Iraqi leader rejected radical Islamic ideals and ran a secular government . . . .

But as instability in Iraq grew after the toppling of Hussein, and resentment toward the United States intensified in the Muslim world, hundreds of foreign terrorists flooded into Iraq across its unguarded borders. They found tons of unprotected weapons caches that, military officials say, they are now using against U.S. troops. Foreign terrorists are believed to make up a large portion of today's suicide bombers, and U.S. intelligence officials say these foreigners are forming tactical, ever-changing alliances with former Baathist fighters and other insurgents . . . .

At the same time, the report says that by 2020, al Qaeda "will be superseded" by other Islamic extremist groups that will merge with local separatist movements. Most terrorism experts say this is already well underway. The NIC says this kind of ever-morphing decentralized movement is much more difficult to uncover and defeat.
UPDATE: On the no-regrets front, our distinguished colleague Attaturk at Rising Hegemon struck first and struck harder. From a Barbara Walters interview scheduled to run tonight on 20/20:
WALTERS: But was it worth it if there were no weapons of mass destruction? Now that we know that that was wrong? Was it worth it?

BUSH: Oh, absolutely.
Here are a few of the things that George Bush does not regret.

UPDATE II: The maestro.

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