For all their bluster, the White House still refuses to guarantee the Iraqi Kurds — who currently enjoy de facto autonomy — that the US will protect them if Saddam makes a preemptive move against them in the lead-up to war. The administration line — reiterated this weekend by Dick Cheney — is that America will “respond at a time and place of its choosing.” To the Kurds that sounds like, we’ll respond once you guys are all dead. But if the administration is serious, why refuse such a guarantee? True, doing so would give Saddam the initiative, allowing him to commence hostilities at a time of his choosing. But with the exception of Turkey, wouldn’t issuing such a guarantee improve our diplomatic position greatly? Allies who are wary of American plans for ‘regime change’ would be far less likely to resist an American pledge to protect a civilian population against an armed incursion by Iraq’s Republican Guard. And if Saddam were foolish enough to give the White House such a pretext for action, much international criticism and resistance would be blunted. We’d likely be supported by many. If the administration is serious, then issuing that guarantee seems like a no-lose proposition. Which makes me think, maybe they’re not. At least not yet.