Getting Out of Iraq?


The papers are full of speculation that the Iraq Study Group chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton will recommend that we get out of Iraq or at least make moves in that direction. The ISG is said to be recommending that we seek help in stabilizing Iraq in negotiations with the governments of Iran and Syria. Robert Gates, President Bush's nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary and who is a member of the ISG, publicly recommended negotiations with Iran and Syria last year. I don't understand why we should expect Iran and Syria to help us. But we are told that these men do and that Bush may follow their recommendations.

But the ISG is not the only group reconsidering our moves in Iraq. It seems that Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in September initiated a review of Iraq policy. That's interesting. It's my understanding that Pace is out of the chain of command, which goes from Centcom head Gen. John Abizaid directly to the secretary of defense. It's widely assumed that Rumsfeld has micromanaged our strategy there and has pressured and/or overruled the generals. But suppose that the truth is just the opposite, that Rumsfeld, who reportedly devotes much of his time to his long-term project of transforming the military, has generally accepted and approved Abizaid's plans. Certainly he has said often enough that Abizaid has not requested more troops. Is Pace working to find an alternative to Abizaid's recommendations? Will that alternative include more troops and a more robust use of force? Perhaps we'll learn when Pace's group reaches its results next month.

If Pace makes such recommendations and if Gates adopts them, we'll see something like the reverse of what happened in our Vietnam policy after the Tet offensive. Then, President Johnson eased out Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and appointed Clark Clifford in his place. Clifford was thought to be a hawk and it seemed likely he would recommend escalation; the Joint Chiefs had already requested more troops.

But Clifford recommended de-escalation and negotiations, and Johnson agreed. Now it is thought that Gates will recommend redeployment and retreat. Is it possible that he, like Clifford, may end up going in the opposite direction from what everyone thought?