On the off chance

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April 21, 2003 2:14 a.m.

On the off chance that you woke up this morning in too buoyant a mood and need to get depressed really quickly, then you won’t want to miss this piece (“Officials Argue for Fast U.S. Exit From Iraq“) in Monday’s Washington Post.

As the title implies, the article is built around blind quotes from various senior administration officials arguing that we should, after all, try to get out of Iraq as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

It’s true that this is the kind of piece you put together by going to every administration official who’s eager for an early exit. But the fact that the author apparently got so much material from ‘senior’ administration officials is a very bad sign.

Here’s just a listing of some of the choicest quotes and snippets …

Senior administration official on the post-war plan: “I don’t think it has to be expensive, and I don’t think it has to be lengthy. Americans do everything fairly quickly.”

Senior administration official: “The president’s goal is to leave Iraq on the road to prosperity and security and democracy — or at least give them a fighting chance of it.”

Former Sec Def James R. Schlesinger: “This is going to be a very tricky course that we are on. Many people who have the right vision about what should be accomplished do not, as of now, recognize how much of a commitment in time as well as money this is going to require.”

Pentagon and White House officials disagree with such warnings. One senior defense official questioned whether 75,000 troops would be needed even in the near future, saying the U.S. military force that deposed Hussein’s government was not much larger. Some government functions could be turned over to an interim Iraqi government in a matter of months, the official said. Even the need for a new Iraqi military force could be obviated by moving U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters south toward Baghdad, the official suggested.

You only have to study Iraq for about an hour and a half to understand that the idea of turning the policing of Baghdad over to Kurdish peshmergas is just a tragic joke.

The subtext of the whole piece is, “It’s gonna cost a lot more than we thought, it looks really complicated, so let’s just give them a good running start, send over a few water purifiers, and then get the hell out.”

What’s so depressing about this article is that none of the difficulties which are now carted out as excuses for pulling out quick were at all unexpected. For months, reluctant hawks were saying, ‘Yes, go in, but only if you’re willing to commit to the sort of long, expensive effort that can insure a good outcome.’

At least some senior administration officials seem willing to toss aside all the grand rhetoric just a couple weeks after the major battles stopped. Just to complete the morality tale, the ones now holding out for a concerted push for reconstruction and democratization are the folks at the State Department — the ones the hawks at the Pentagon long accused of opposing efforts to democratize Iraq.

It’s hard to read this article and not get the sense that at least some big players in the administration had never really thought seriously about what they were getting us into. Or, if not that, that they’re cynical almost beyond measure. I always feared that we’d get into Iraq on the sparkling vision of Paul Wolfowitz and then govern it with ethics of Richard Perle and the parsimony of Mitch Daniels.

If this article is any sign … well, you know the rest.

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