'Stay the course' remains Bush's policy
President Bush said he wants Donald Rumsfeld to remain as defense secretary.
ONLY a week after discarding "stay the course" as his Iraq policy, President Bush said he wanted Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of that policy, to remain as defense secretary for the remainder of his presidency. The commitment clearly shows that the policy will remain the same under other presidential slogans.
That policy is based on benchmarks to occur before American troops withdraw from Iraq. The troops will "stand down" -- we assume that phrase still is operative -- when Iraqi forces alone are able to provide security.
That is preferable to calendar-based withdrawals of U.S. troops, favored by some Democrats, including Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye. A premature withdrawal would result in deterioration into a full-blown civil war and destabilization of the Middle East. Iraq conceivably could be turned into a base of operations for al-Qaida.
Bush praised Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney this week for "doing fantastic jobs." That is an accurate description of the Iraq policy -- based on fantasy rather than the feasibility of achieving what the president calls victory in an ill-founded and badly executed war of choice.
A third alternative of "conditional withdrawal" was offered this week by Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and, until 2003, principal policy adviser to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Essentially, he suggests that the United States inform the Iraqi government of political and military deadlines. If Iraq failed to meet the deadlines, U.S. troops then would leave.
"It thus would come to resemble in practice a calendar-based exit strategy," Haass wrote, "with the important difference that a substantial share of the onus for the policy change would ostensibly be on the Iraqis for their shortcomings rather than on the U.S. stemming from a lack of resolve." Continued U.S. economic aid and a forum of neighboring countries could help, he added.
Haass described his scenario as "hardly ideal, but it is the least bad course available to the U.S. This is a time for realism, not ambition." And not fantasy.
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