- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Last week, in what was headlined as an electoral earthquake, Democrats regained control of Congress. Donald Rumsfeld resigned as Secretary of Defense. And the Iraqi Study Group, chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, was hailed as the savior for George W. Bush’s failing policies in Iraq with its promised report due out next month.

The elections reflected great voter disapproval and dissatisfaction with Iraq policy. But simply because there is a new Democratic Congress, a new secretary of defense-designate and a pending report on Iraq, that does not mean the nation will be any better off regarding Iraq or made safer and more secure. Three larger reasons underscore this pessimism.

First, the American government is currently incapable of providing good governance. Indeed, it is badly broken, as Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina and dozens of other scandalous examples sadly illustrate. Democrats have not fully recognized this condition and have not proposed any means for fixing government.

The hundred-hour onslaught to pass the “six for 06” agenda, promised by Speaker of the House-designate Nancy Pelosi in the next Congress, focuses on legislation such as raising the minimum wage, cutting interest rates on student loans and implementing all of the September 11 Commission recommendations, not providing good governance. A most urgent requirement is reforming Congress, a huge part of a badly broken government. But do Democrats and Republicans have the courage and stomach for real reform?

Second, Iraq policy will only change when and if Mr. Bush mandates change. Given his unshakable principles about the global war on terror — the unyielding hatred of America and its freedoms by our adversaries; that Iraq is the central battlefield in this war; and that democratization of Iraq is the key means of achieving victory — it is difficult to see the president abandoning what he believes matters most. In his press conference last week, the president called for “victory” in Iraq, suggesting that there may be tactical shifts and no more. If the president does not commit to significant change, then not even a Dwight Eisenhower or Winston Churchill as secretary of defense would make much difference.

Third, there are no good choices for Iraq. “Staying the course” is dead on arrival. Almost all responsible observers view precipitous withdrawal as a prescription for further disaster. A substantial increase in U.S. forces, proposed by Sen. John McCain, is also unlikely. Determining how and what missions those forces could accomplish and where we would find the additional 50,000 or 100,000 or more troops are questions begging good answers. The Iraq Study Group will no doubt offer options in between these polar choices. But each has powerful downsides. And other, largely invisible consequences arise from the events of last week that will become more obvious as time passes.

The Iraq Study Group has distinguished and experienced commissioners. It has sought advice from many quarters. However, as a very seasoned former senior official cynically observed, none of the commissioners is a general or an Iraqi. The meaning is that the report will be largely written for an American political audience and not necessarily from the perspective of Iraq — a potentially fatal flaw as, through omission or commission, American strategy has passed the responsibility for success to Iraqis, over whom the United States has less and perhaps little influence.

Regarding Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation, as the secretary responded to a question posed to him last week at a speech given at Kansas State University, history will judge his legacy. The Iraq war will be a large measure of that assessment. But so, too, will be Mr. Rumsfeld’s commitment to the transformation of the U.S. military, something that has been overshadowed by the war.

Mr. Bush came into office in 2001 promising to transform the U.S. military for the 21st century. Before September 11, no one could define what transformation meant and during Mr. Rumsfeld’s first months in office, he was clearly on the endangered species list as calls for his dismissal echoed throughout Congress and the press. Since then, transformation has become an intellectual and institutional process of continuously assessing American military power and reacting quickly to exploit its strengths and minimize or eliminate its weaknesses with the understanding that our major adversaries possess no army, navy or air force and that, for us to prevail, new and innovative thinking about applying our power is essential. It would be a tragedy if that commitment to transformation dissipated simply because Mr. Rumsfeld is no longer in office.

If the Democrats are serious about governing and not merely retaining the majority, there is one simple means to demonstrate that commitment. Fixing a broken government is essential. Unless that can be done, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not make a whit in what happens in the aftermath of Iraq.

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