Looking for the exit

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If it wasn’t a quagmire, it was certainly quagmiry. And the first prominent retired general to break ranks with President Bush’s Iraq war policy was a Republican who once headed the National Security Agency and also served as a deputy national security adviser. Gen. William E. Odom, a fluent Russian speaker who teaches at Georgetown and Yale universities, told the Wall Street Journal’s John Harwood staying the course in Iraq is untenable.

It was hard to disagree with Gen. Odom’s description of Mr. Bush’s vision of reordering the Middle East by building a democracy in Iraq as a pipedream. His prescription: Remove U.S. forces “from that shattered country as rapidly as possible.”

Gen. Odom says bluntly, “we have failed,” and “the issue is how high a price we’re going to pay — less by getting out sooner, or more by getting out later.”

At best, Iraq will emerge from the current geopolitical earthquake as “a highly illiberal democracy, inspired by Islamic culture, extremely hostile to the West and probably quite willing to fund terrorist organizations,” Gen. Odom explained. If that wasn’t enough to erode support for the war, he added, “The ability of Islamist militants to use Iraq as a beachhead for attacks against American interests elsewhere may increase.”

Gen. Odom, heads of the pro-Republican Hudson Institute, also calls the sum achievement of U.S. occupation of Iraq “the radicalization of Saudi Arabia and probably Egypt, too. And the longer we stay in Iraq, the more isolated America will become.”

The retired four-star’s proposed solution is for the U.N. and the European allies to take charge of political and security arrangements. This formal request from the U.S., says Gen. Odom, should be accompanied by a unilateral declaration that U.S. forces are leaving even if no one else agrees to come in.

The Journal’s John Hardwood in his Capital Journal column asks which sounds more credible — Gen. Odom’s gloomy forecast or Mr. Bush’s prediction of success? He does say which way he leans. But a company-size bevy of retired U.S. generals and admirals were in constant touch this week with a volunteer drafter putting the final touches to a “tough condemnation” of Bush administration Middle Eastern policy.

The Council of Foreign Relations organized a conference call-in for its members with Gen. Odom. A score of former U.S. ambassadors who had served in the Middle East were also discussing how to join their voices to Britain’s 52 former ambassadors, high commissioners and governors who wrote to Tony Blair to accuse him of scuttling peace efforts between Israel and Palestinians. The British diplomats also took Mr. Blair to task for policies “doomed to failure” in Iraq.

One British co-signer was Paul Bergne, who until recently was the prime minister’s personal envoy to Afghanistan.

It was the first time in living memory so many former envoys to the Middle East had acted as a group to denounce the government’s foreign policy. They said they spoke for many serving diplomats, as well.

The retired U.S. ambassadors were as one in warning President Bush that discarding the Middle East road map to peace and substituting a plan that leaves Palestinians no hope for a viable state is tantamount to declaring war on moderation — and jeopardizing U.S. interests all over the region.

Total alignment with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s anti-Palestinian strategy has turned even moderate Muslims against the United States. Egypt’s President Mubarak said hatred of the U.S. had never reached such depths.

When Mr. Bush suddenly dropped longstanding U.S. opposition to Jewish settlements on the West Bank, rooted as they were in U.N. resolutions, Israeli settlers could not believe their luck. Mr. Sharon conceded Gaza, where 7,500 Jewish settlers had no future among 1.3 million Palestinians, but in return obtained U.S. blessings for permanent Israeli habitation in large swaths of what was to be a Palestinian state. Even illegal hilltop settlements concluded they were now safe from removal and immediately began erecting permanent structures to replace mobile homes. Israel spends $600 million a year on settlements. And Sharon’s Likud stalwarts hung tough on Gaza, voting, in a non-binding resolution, to keep 7,500 Jews in 26 settlements living among 1.3 million Palestinians.

No sooner had the White House’s red light flashed green than the once surreptitious, crawling annexation of the West Bank resumed in the open. Jewish West Bank settlers were jubilant while Palestinians were adrift in the Slough of Despond.

With the Right of Return for Palestinians also off the table, and no viable state of their own on the West Bank, extremist organizations will have no problem recruiting more jihadis (holy warriors) and merging terrorist operations with the underground resistance in Iraq.

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