- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The exasperated defense secretary could take it no longer. “I keep hearing, ‘What is the plan, there is no plan.’ That is plain not true,” he blurted out in some frustration to an equally perturbed Democratic congressman during a recent hearing supporting the Bush administration’s $87 billion bill for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Trouble from Congress was bad enough. But a few days later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got it from the White House too. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice advised him in a memo drafted without his prior knowledge that she was creating a new Iraq Stabilization Group to oversee the reconstruction effort nominally under his control. Asked about the changes by reporters, Mr. Rumsfeld snapped. “I think you will have to ask Condi that question,” and when pressed added, “I said I don’t know. Isn’t that clear? You don’t understand English? I was not there for the backgrounding.”

The explanation is that things are getting sticky in Iraq and the man on top is on the spot. The hawkish Weekly Standard called it “an administration at war with itself,” between the Standard’s faction that favors more troops committed to staying in Iraq until it becomes a functioning democracy, and the realist school that wants out as soon as a certain degree of peace and order are restored.

Contrary to the views of most people from left and right, Mr. Rumsfeld falls clearly in the realist camp and even had reservations about a massive ground war beforehand. So he has become the target not only of the doves in the Democratic Party but also the make-the-world-safe-for-democracy hawks in the administration and among outside opinion leaders.

There certainly was a plan so far as Mr. Rumsfeld was concerned. He has been preaching realism privately and publicly since September 11, 2001, and spelled it out clearly last February and again recently in justifying the $87 billion appropriation.

Yet, it has all been in the guarded language that is required of all Washington officials in these days of “got ya” politics. He had to be circumspect so as not to deflate the overblown rhetoric of the public relations team in the White House or the “make Iraq a flowering democracy” crowd outside.

But, for those willing to parse the phraseology and ignore the PR campaign, it is possible to see the outline of a coherent plan.

It is based on certain premises reaching back to George W. Bush’s beliefs expressed to the voters during his campaign. “We must proceed with some humility. American forces can do many remarkable things,” Mr. Rumsfeld emphasized, “but they cannot provide permanent stability or create an Iraqi democracy. That will be up to the Iraqi people.” Even more important, he continued, “We are not in Iraq to engage in nation-building — our mission is to help the Iraqis so they can build their own nation. We have kept our footprint modest [even in] liberating Iraq with little more than 100,000 U.S. troops on the ground.” When combat ended, “we began working immediately to enlist Iraqis to take responsibility for governance and security. Our objective is not to create dependency but to encourage Iraqi independence.

“Today in Iraq we are operating on the same guiding principle that has brought success in our effort in Afghanistan,” he concluded. The military plan from the beginning was to keep American forces to a minimum, rely upon local forces and turn over control to them as soon as possible thereafter.

Larger outside forces were needed in Iraq but they were limited, and the defense secretary has rejected both dove and hawk pressure to enlarge the number of U.S. combat forces on the ground. The job was to assist the locals in attaining stability not to force impossible requirements for Western democracy and limited government. There is every difference between helping and trying to do it with an American Caesar — and no Gen. Douglas MacArthur is available.

Many Americans have had serious reservations about committing American forces to Iraq. But that is history. Mr. Rumsfeld has a rational plan that rejects the naivete of the empire-builders and sets a workable route to transfer power with honor. Just recently, our single substantial ally, Great Britain, has joined the rest of the world asking for a quick handover of authority to the Iraqis.

Mr. Rumsfeld deserves support — and he will need it in the face of enormous pressure within and without the administration to keep our fine soldiers in harm’s way in order to chase the chimera of town-hall democracy in a country that does not want it and is not able to sustain it.

Donald Devine, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, is a columnist and a Washington-based policy consultant.

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