Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt

All we wanted for Christmas was a plausible Iraq strategy. In the White House briefing room last week, George Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, explained why this was unrealistic. The President, he said, "is moving toward a decision on how to move forward." In a tone of voice that was not particularly seasonal, he continued:

I know a lot of you have been curious about when he would be announcing or talking about the way forward. That is not going to happen until the new year. We do not know when, so I can't give you a date, I can't give you a time, I can't give you a place, I can't give you the way in which it will happen.

According to the latest polls, seven out of ten Americans disapprove of Bush's performance regarding Iraq. For them, Snow offered a few words of reassurance. "The most important thing," he said, "is that the President continues to be engaged in the business of talking about the way forward."

The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary has produced a chaos in Washington's Iraq-policy debate akin to that which sometimes follows the sudden fall of a dictator. (As Rumsfeld once said about Iraq's looters, "Free people are free to make mistakes.") With his brio and his bullying, Rumsfeld suppressed discussion of alternative courses in Iraq advocated by the uniformed military; he fought opponents in the Cabinet, among them Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and, before her, Colin Powell, to a stalemate; and he encouraged President Bush's combination of rhetorical bravado and persistent denial of Iraq's deteriorating condition. The Administration that Rumsfeld has left behind looks a little untidy, as he might have put it.

In the wishful imagining of many Washington wonks, both Democratic and Republican, Rumsfeld's departure, coupled with the publication of a comprehensive policy review by the grand old bipartisan Pooh-Bahs of the Iraq Study Group, would by now have produced a realistic and pragmatic plan, publicly anointed by Bush. This plan would have featured an ambitious diplomatic campaign, including talks with Syria and possibly Iran, aimed at stabilizing Iraq gradually, which in turn might help set conditions for a managed American exit from daily combat in Iraqi cities and villages; the exact timetables and methods of this troop redeployment and withdrawal would be determined later.

The President, however, has little interest in or talent for the energetic global diplomacy recommended by the Iraq Study Group, which was co-chaired by James Baker, who was Secretary of State under Bush's father. Bush the younger is plainly annoyed by the commission's forceful, vivid account of his failures in Iraq. He seems to have interpreted the report as one more lousy shot at him from the has-beens and second-guessers who shaped his father's notably more successful foreign policy. If the President had embraced the Study Group's critique of Iraq's dire condition as true and helpful, of course, he would have had to admit that he was wrong about the invasion and the occupation, and that his father's crowd was right.

Bush has now immersed himself in his own Iraq review, one that will allow him to claim the credit for any shift in direction, but this effort has become transparently unconvincing. He gives the impression of a man wandering around Washington looking for a new mentor. …

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