Which brings us back to the razor's edge. If the United States rapidly
adjusts its Iraq operations to take realities in that country into
account, rather than engaging on ongoing wishful thinking, the situation in Iraq can be saved and with it the gains made in the war on al Qaeda. On the other hand, if the United States continues its unbalanced and ineffective prosecution of the war against the guerrillas and continues to allow its relations with the Shia to deteriorate, the United States will find itself in an untenable position. If it is forced to withdraw from Iraq, or to so limit its operations there as to be effectively withdrawn, the entire dynamic that the United States has worked to create since the Sept. 11 attacks will reverse itself, and the U.S. position in the Muslim world -- which was fairly strong in January 2004 -- will deteriorate, and al Qaeda's influence will increase dramatically.
The Political Crisis
It is not clear that the Bush administration understands the crisis it is facing. The prison abuse pictures are symptomatic -- not only of
Persistent command failure, but also of the administration's loss of credibility with the public. Since no one really knows what the administration is doing, it is not unreasonable to fill in the blanks with the least generous assumptions. The issue is this: Iraq has not gone as planned by any stretch of the imagination. If the failures of Iraq are not rectified quickly, the entire U.S. strategic position could unravel. Speed is of the essence. There is no longer time left.
The issue is one of responsibility. Who is responsible for the failures in Iraq? The president appears to have assumed that if anyone were fired, it would be admitting that something went wrong. At this point, there is no one who doesn't know that many things have gone wrong. If the president insists on retaining all of his senior staff, Cabinet members and field commanders, no one is going to draw the conclusion that everything is under control; rather they will conclude that it is the president himself who is responsible for the failures, and they will act accordingly.
The issue facing Bush is not merely the prison pictures. It is the
series of failures in the Iraq campaign that have revealed serious errors of judgment and temperament among senior Cabinet-level officials. We suspect that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is finished, and with him Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Vice President Dick Cheney said over the weekend that everyone should get off of Rumsfeld's case. What Cheney doesn't seem to grasp is that there is a war on and that at this moment, it isn't going very well. If the secretary of defense doesn't bear the burden of failures and misjudgments, who does? Or does the vice president suggest a no-fault policy when it comes to war? Or does he think that things are going well?
This is not asked polemically. It is our job to identify emerging
trends, and we have, frequently, been accused of everything from being owned by the Republicans to being Iraq campaign apologists. In fact, we are making a non-partisan point: The administration is painting itself into a corner that will cost Bush the presidency if it does not deal with the fact that there is no one who doesn't know that Iraq has been mismanaged. The administration's only option for survival is to start managing it effectively, if that can be done at this point.