- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

Course correction

Every newspaper likes to see its articles have an impact, so of course we were delighted when a story in Thursday’s paper about the prospects for a change of course in Iraq became Topic A at that day’s White House briefing.

The following exchange between reporters and White House spokesman Tony Snow is taken directly from a transcript of the briefing:

Q: The Washington Times says in a front-page story today that the administration is preparing for a “course correction.”

Mr. Snow: That’s a bunch of hooey. I mean, it seems to be a collection of actually old hooey brought into a piece of new hooey. (Laughter.) So, I mean, you get — I don’t know where that came from, but it didn’t come from the White House.

Q: And just to follow on hooey, the things that are raised in this hooey-filled article, such as the division of Iraq …

Mr. Snow: Yes, partition — non-starter.

Q: Non-starter? [Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison raised it yesterday …

Mr. Snow: Again, as I said, we have, in fact, considered — we consider lots of things. We’ve thought about partition, for a series of reasons …

Q: Phased withdrawal?

Mr. Snow: Again, you don’t — you withdraw when you win. Phased withdrawal is a way of saying, regardless of what the conditions are on the ground, we’re going to get out of Dodge.

Q: The 5 percent solution …

Mr. Snow: No.

Q: Non-starter?

Mr. Snow: Non-starter.

Q: I just think that you’re quickly dismissing several ideas here that were on the front page, but you’re not dismissing this idea and what should we do …

Mr. Snow: Well, because what you should take from it is, for instance, ideas like partition had been studied. What you’re talking now about are tactical adjustments that may be made along the way. And I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no because I don’t know. … The most important thing is to have Iraqi troops who are able to accomplish the mission. But that’s taking time and we’re working on it.

New hooey

I don’t know who asked that last question, but he or she put his or her finger on the point the story was intended to make.

In her article, our Iraq specialist Sharon Behn cited at least five recent remarks by persons in or very close to the Bush administration saying they consider the current course of events in Iraq to be unacceptable.

We also noted that published leaks from a commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III suggest that its report, due in the coming weeks, will recommend a fairly dramatic new strategy for the war.

We then examined a couple of the most obvious alternatives — partition or a phased withdrawal — laying out the arguments that have been made in favor, as well as the risks involved with each.

Finally, we described another scenario that has been barely mentioned in Washington but which is being widely discussed in Baghdad — a coup to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and replace him with former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Hence Mr. Snow’s characterization of the story as “old hooey brought into a piece of new hooey.”

Indeed. But that was the point. We never claimed to know that the Bush administration was planning to adopt one or another of the scenarios. We simply tried to bring together in one place a critical mass of comments suggesting that government officials themselves believe something has to change, and then examine the pros and cons of the most obvious alternatives.

As for the coup scenario, we don’t take it all that seriously, but many Iraqis — as well as Americans working in Iraq — do, and that in itself made it worth sharing with our readers.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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