Neocon crackup.

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Sept. 8 2003 6:59 PM

The Neocon Crackup

The Weekly Standard finally recognizes our manpower shortage in Iraq.

The smoothly oiled neoconservative message machine is showing signs of breakdown. Having argued for five months that things were basically fine in Iraq—and that any suggestion otherwise was liberal cant—the Weekly Standard last week broke with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about whether additional troops were needed to restore order in Iraq. Rumsfeld says no; the Standard said yes in a lead editorial by publisher William Kristol and contributing editor Robert Kagan. In the Sept. 15 issue, Kristol and Kagan say yes again—a little more emphatically this time:

[W]hen Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the United States has enough forces on the ground in Iraq, what he means is that we have enough so long as nothing untoward happens. But even that may be inaccurate.

In a second piece, titled "Secretary of Stubbornness" and penned by Tom Donnelly, Rumsfeld takes a more direct hit. The Pentagon chief, Donnelly writes, risks going down in history "as the architect of defeat in the larger war for Iraq." Kristol was even blunter about Rumsfeld to Dana Milbank and Thomas E. Ricks in the Sept. 4 Washington Post:

For five months they let Rumsfeld have his way, and for five months Rumsfeld said everything's fine. He wanted to do the postwar with fewer troops than a lot of people advised, and it turned out to be a mistake.

But this new party line appeared too late for Midge Decter, mother of Standard contributing editor John Podhoretz, to call back from the printer an admiring portrait of Rumsfeld due to be published Oct. 14 by HarperCollins (which, like the Standard, is a unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.). Chatterbox hasn't yet read the Decter book, but the publisher's promotional copy says Decter "has enjoyed over two decades of personal friendship with Rumsfeld," and that Rumsfeld is "the biggest star (apart from the president himself) of the Bush administration." And then there's the book's title: Rummy, Rummy, Rummy, I've Got Love in My Tummy. OK, that isn't the book's title. It's Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait. But that doesn't sound like a book about any "architect of defeat in the larger war for Iraq."

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Also caught out arguing the old neoconservative party line is Max Boot, recently returned from Iraq, who assures us in the Sept. 7 Los Angeles Times that "U.S. troops in Iraq are slowly winning the war on the ground, even as they're losing the public relations battle back home." At one point, Boot reports, "[a] corporal asked me to cover [a handcuffed Iraqi suspected of bombing a Marine transport] with a 9-millimeter pistol. I was happy to comply." No offense to Boot, but if a Marine corporal needs to recruit a neocon scribbler to be prison guard, that suggests to Chatterbox that U.S. troops in Iraq are in need of reinforcements. But our man in Baghdad will have none of it: "Every U.S. officer I talked to said that the 150,000 soldiers we have in Iraq now are sufficient."

In time, Chatterbox presumes, Decter and Boot will catch up with the new Standard line, which acknowledges a manpower shortage that, inside the Pentagon, only Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and their yes-men refuse to see. (By asking Congress to double the amount spent on the Iraq occupation, President Bush seems to be acknowledging reality, too.) But Chatterbox can well understand why the neocons resisted for so long. If we're short on the number of troops needed to get the job in Iraq done, we need to ask where the added troops will come from. That's the central question addressed by Kristol and Kagan's latest editorial. Their answer comes in three parts.

Part one is the assertion that the United Nations will never provide sufficient troops to address the crisis:

[T]he bad news for the U.S. military, and for all those out there who would like to see us shift some of the burden of the Iraqi occupation to the U.N. over the next few months, is that we aren't likely to get more troops from the international community.

Part two is the rejection of Rumsfeld's idea that we should accelerate turning Iraqi security over to the Iraqis (a strategy also favored by neocon Richard Perle):

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