Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Kissinger to Bush: forget the victory rhetoric

Did you happen to catch Henry Kissinger’s comments this weekend? Quite extraordinary, really.

Here is the purported Republican wise man of foreign policy, the backstage tutor of President Bush during the latter’s hour of need…and yet even he is now saying, in public, that the Bush mission in Iraq is a hopeless quagmire.

First, a bit of context: Bush has long argued that we are “winning” the war in Iraq, that “victory” is either at hand or in sight or conceivably around the corner. The rhetoric has been dispensed to Americans seemingly on a continuous loop. During the 2004 campaign, for instance, he said he had “a strategy that will lead to victory,” and on Nov. 30, 2005 he said he had “a clear strategy for victory,” and that “we would never accept anything less than complete victory,” and on July 4 of this year he said that “when the job in Iraq is done, it will be a major victory,” and on Aug. 31 he said that “victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our enemies,” and on Sept. 11 he said that “we can be confident in victory, because of the skill and resolve of America’s armed forces,” and just a few weeks ago he said that “absolutely, we are winning.”

Yet now we have Henry Kissinger himself telling the BBC that (a) we are not winning, and (b) we will never achieve victory.

Bush and his surrogates have long said that we would achieve victory in Iraq when a democratic central government, backed by its own effective military, is able to stand up for itself and stabilize the country. But Kissinger basically told the BBC this weekend that, by that definition, victory is no longer achievable.

His words: “If you mean by clear military victory an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible."

Note, also, that Kissinger is matter of factly observing that Iraq is now embroiled in a civil war – something that Bush has never acknowledged. I am awaiting the Republican National Committee press release claiming that Kissinger is merely a “Defeat-o-crat,” but, given the fact that frustration with the war now extends deep into the GOP and military establishments, it’s clear that such a political attack strategy is no longer operative. Not even our top fighting men seem to have faith in the Bush rhetoric; as Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said the other day, “You have to define ‘win,’'' and he doesn’t believe that building a “democracy,” as Americans typically understand the word, has anything to do with it.

Kissinger’s willingness to speak out is further proof that Bush not only has lost control of events, he has also lost control of the administration message. Kissinger told the BBC that America should be talking to Iraq’s neighbors (Syria and Iran) in order to quell “the civil war” – a stance that is openly at odds with Bush’s longstanding refusal to talk to Iraq’s neighbors.

At the same time, Kissinger told the BBC that it would be wrong for America to withdraw its troops prematurely, because such a move, he said, would further destabilize the country. Bush defenders no doubt will point to that remark as proof that the administration is right to resist calls for a troop phase-down in 2007.

But take a step back and look at Kissinger’s overall message: He is essentially saying that we cannot win this war, and yet, for the foreseeable future, we should keep our troops in harm’s way nevertheless. That’s quite a message for the soldiers, as well as for their families back home. Forgive me, but this sounds like the early 70’s Kissinger prescription for Vietnam – a prescription for a quagmire that prompted the young John Kerry to wonder, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

From the Republican perspective, it’s a good thing that Bush’s tutor didn’t utter his remarks prior to the congressional elections, or else the GOP might well have coughed up even more seats. Which is arguably why we are hearing this kind of frank admission only now, after the election.