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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Gergen sees one last push in Iraq coming

David Gergen, the editor-at-large for U.S. News and World Report, spoke to a business group in Phoenix on Oct. 16. He spoke on a wide range of issues, but I thought his comments on the war in Iraq were particularly interesting. Gergen has worked for four presidents -– three Republicans and one Democrat. His comments are about as even-handed as any I have ever heard from a Washington insider.

“There is a sense in Washington that we are in a holding pattern until after the election,” Gergen said of the Iraq situation. “When Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) recently came back from Iraq, he said, ‘We are moving sideways in Iraq.’ He said we’ve got a couple months and then we’ve got to re-evaluate.

“There is a great sense in Washington that we are moving toward Plan B, that Plan A has not worked, and that we are going to move to Plan B. Everybody is asking, what is Plan B? It will not be cut and run, it will not be airlift everybody out of there in the next six days. Clearly this president has the inner fortitude not to do that. That would be a bad mistake, to pull the plug on this thing like that.

“But what we are doing is not working either, so you have got to find something in between. We don’t want Plan C; Plan A is not working. You’ve got to come up with Plan B.”

Gergen noted that former secretary of state Jim Baker (Republican) and Lee Hamilton (Democrat) are co-chairing a commission on Iraq. The commission includes former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“The commission is going to come up with a set of proposals,” Gergen said. “It is widely believed that those proposals will be Plan B.”

Gergen said Baker is a master at getting people out of tight spots. The commission will quietly brings its conclusions to President Bush and the President will likely agree to them before the commission goes public. The President will say it is time to re-evaluate and he will endorse the proposals of the commission, Gergen said.

“When he comes up with Plan B, I think it is also very possible that he will suggest the architects of Plan A might want to do other things in life. That that might be a good time to change teams,” Gergen said. “That’s what Lyndon Johnson did in the Viet Nam war. He had Bob McNamara there; that wasn’t working and he sent McNamara to the World Bank. He brought in Clark Clifford as his Secretary of Defense. I don’t know whether Jim Baker would do that or not. He is 76. I don’t know whether he would be willing to be Secretary of Defense at this point. It’s a lot to ask of him. But the President could reach out to a Sam Nunn. Democrat, Georgia, that would be a marvelous choice. A really smart, smart choice.

“There is a lot of talk in Washington about Plan B requiring us to send a lot more troops. There is a lot of loose talk in Washington that we are talking as many as 100,000 troops who would go in for a short period of time, maybe six months to a year, to try to stabilize this place. The idea is if you put a lot more troops in there you can quiet everything down. That’s the idea. Problem is, we don’t have enough military. We have maybe 20,000 you could throw together, unless you drew down from future assignments.”

Gergen said he believes the American people have not completely given up on the President. “I think the President has one more shot,” he said. “I think the President can go to the country and say ‘This is not working.’ He has to eat some crow, which is not easy for him to do. He is a rightfully proud man. But he can say to the country ‘I need you,’ to the Democrats, ‘I need you. Iraq is too important to let go down the drain. Let’s give it one more shot. Let’s give it one more big push. Let’s see if we can’t succeed here, and if we can’t then we will have to go to Plan C.’ I think the president can get people to go along with him.

“When you look down into the abyss and say ‘Do you really want to let Iraq go down?’ I think most Americans will say no. Let’s try.”

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