Robert Novak

That part of the world tends not to be perfectly peaceful. . . . It never will be, is my view. And do I think that when we leave, it'll be a perfectly peaceful situation? No, I think it'll be a situation where the Iraqis have developed the ability to manage their situation from a security standpoint. And we will have a mutual agreement that it makes sense now to bring down the coalition forces and leave.

 Rumsfeld's carefully parsed prose was almost exactly what my administration sources had put more bluntly. When Cosby asked Rumsfeld whether the U.S. may "start to pull out" after the Iraqi elections next year, he replied: "We've already started. We had 150,000 troops over there originally. We're down to 137 [thousand] right now."

 There was no talk of "victory" by the defense secretary. The closest he came was saying "we're going to win" by holding Iraqi elections despite insurgent efforts to block the vote. In public comments on Sept. 24, Rumsfeld conveyed his goal:

An Iraq that is a single country, not broken in pieces, that was at peace with its neighbors and didn't have weapons of mass destruction; [that] fashioned a government that was respectful of the various women, religious groups, all the diversity that existed in that country.

 In asserting that the U.S. had not fashioned a "template" for Iraq, Rumsfeld suggested a war without clear victory. Whoever wins the election Nov. 2, it is hard to imagine the winner condoning an endless war in Iraq that would mean long casualty lists unacceptable to Americans.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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