A memo by outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recommending changes in U.S. strategy in Iraq is being spun in some quarters as a declaration of capitulation. In fact, it is akin to what an assistant coach for an under-performing NFL team might hand to the head coach, if the assistant seeks to alter a game plan so that his team will win.
Winning in Iraq, however, does not seem to be a priority for growing numbers of American politicians. They are like the crowd at a football game that sees the home team losing and heads for the exits before the game is over, only to miss the big comeback and victory. Unlike football, however, the only "game" following a failure to prevail in Iraq will be one in which the United States is the biggest loser.
In his memo, Rumsfeld's list of "above the line" options contain an element of troop reductions, but his recommendations are designed to put progress ahead of pullout, so that withdrawal follows the attainment of a more stable Iraq, instead of impeding it. That is the main difference between the Rumsfeld memo and the vociferous "withdraw now" crowd. Rumsfeld and President Bush want to see an independent and stable Iraq achieved first.
The leak of the Rumsfeld memo precedes the Iraq Study Group report, due Dec. 6. About it, retired military officer Ralph Peters writes in The Weekly Standard, "No matter the politically correct language in which it may be couched, the group's fundamental recommendation will be to return to a foreign policy in which the quest for stability trumps freedom, ignores human rights, frustrates the will of ordinary people, and violates elementary decency. By resisting change, the study group will only make the changes that do come to the Middle East even more explosive and anti-American."
There is something else the Iraq Study Group is unlikely to address. It is the loss of fear by our enemies. The United States of America was once feared and respected around the world. Once, few would have dared kidnap an American because of certain retribution. The loss of fear started with Jimmy Carter, who allowed followers of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini to hold American hostages for 444 days. It was no coincidence that Khomeini released the hostages just 20 minutes after Ronald Reagan's inaugural address. Khomeini must have believed reports that Reagan was a "cowboy" and might flatten Iran with nuclear bombs.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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