Americans disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq by nearly two to one, according to a new Gallop poll. A majority want US troops withdrawn from Iraq within twelve months–a higher proportion than wanted to withdraw from Vietnam in the summer of 1970. Catering to public sentiment, on November 15 the Senate voted 79 to 19 for a Republican resolution saying 2006 should be a year of “significant transition” for US withdrawal from Iraq.
But no transition, phased redeployment or any other change in Iraq policy is likely until the cabal that got us into this war is excised.
The word “cabal” was recently introduced to the ongoing debate on the war when Col. Lawrence Wilkinson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top assistant, disclosed what many had suspected: In the early days of the Bush Administration the US government was essentially hijacked by “a cabal between the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld,” supported by a handful of top staffers like I. Lewis Libby, John Bolton and David Addington. These men not only lied us into war in Iraq; they set the stage for torture at Abu Ghraib and encouraged the outing of Valerie Plame. Frighteningly, they still control US policy.
We don’t yet know President Bush’s relation to this shadowy group of decision-makers, who bypassed normal routes and made their own policy decisions in secret. Did he lead the cabal? Willingly participate? Encourage it with a wink and a nod? Regard it with indifference? Whatever Bush’s involvement, one thing is clear: These men must now be repudiated by President Bush, Congress and the American people if we are to find our way out of the mess they’ve made in Iraq.
Cosmetic changes to the White House staff will achieve little for the Bush Administration and less for the country. As long as the perpetrators of the yellowcake uranium fraud and the abuse of terror suspects are in positions of power and honor, nothing will change.
Breaking the power of this cabal is the prerequisite to moving toward a solution in Iraq.
The first reason is obvious: Cheney and Rumsfeld still control the levers of power within the Administration. They are dedicated to imposing “regime change” throughout the Middle East to install governments subservient to the United States. They remain in a position to manipulate evidence and provoke incidents–even to entangle us in a new war with Syria or Iran.
The second reason is less obvious but perhaps even more important: The US government is unlikely to find partners for making peace as long as it is dominated by a clique that is perceived as having manufactured the case for war, encouraged torture and alienating the American people.
Indeed, the level of foreign distrust has risen so high that a senior Administration official recently told the Washington Post, “The debate in the world has become about whether the US complies with its legal obligations.” The world won’t cooperate with the United States to develop new solutions for Iraq until the cabal is removed and repudiated.
Any other President faced with policy failure and plummeting support would have brought in a new team long ago. As the stalemated war in Vietnam became increasingly unpopular, Lyndon Johnson replaced the war’s architect, Robert McNamara, with Wall Street lawyer and Washington power broker Clark Clifford. When Ronald Reagan’s popularity plummeted after the Iran/contra scandals, he brought in a new, more moderate team that pursued a whole new set of broadly popular policy initiatives.