Plan E

PLAN E….Is George Bush in “fantasyland” regarding Iraq, as John Kerry says? I realize that’s the fashionable position among lefty partisans, but it’s honestly hard to come to any other conclusion these days.

We all know the wildly erratic background. In the beginning, administration ideologues were convinced we’d be welcomed with flowers. Within a few months we’d install Ahmed Chalabi as president of a liberated Iraq, draw down the occupation force to about 30,000 troops, and declare victory.

That really was fantasy, but when that plan almost immediately fell apart there was no Plan B on the shelf. So the administration ginned one up posthaste: disband the Iraqi army and stay around for a while. Jay Garner objected, so he was fired and Jerry Bremer was called in to be our new proconsul.

But that plan didn’t work out too well either. By November scattered attacks had grown into a full-blown insurgency and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, apparently tired of Bremer’s strongman act, insisted on quick elections. After some panicky discussions back home and a call to the UN, Plan C was unveiled: we would turn over power on June 30 and hold elections seven months after that.

But that still didn’t work. The turnover proceeded on schedule, but security didn’t get any better. Fallujah and Najaf became rebel strongholds, hamhanded planning turned Muqtada al-Sadr into a Shiite hero, and a dangerous insurgency became a full-blown guerrilla war.

So now we’re on Plan D, a feebly disguised version of Plan C: the elections will proceed as scheduled and that will fix everything. It’s unlikely that anyone below the level of cabinet secretary actually believes this, but it’s impossible to say so because there’s an election coming up. An American election, that is.

That election, and the political considerations that go along with it, have been driving our military strategy for the past two years. Before the war, we passed up a chance to take out terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi ? for political reasons. We invaded with too few troops ? for political reasons. We lowballed the cost of the war ? for political reasons. We ignored the UN and then turned around and pleaded for their help ? for political reasons. Then we installed Iyad Allawi as president behind the UN’s back ? for political reasons.

And just recently we’ve learned that the Marines were yo-yoed in and out of Fallujah ? for political reasons. The president has bizarrely dismissed his own intelligence agencies’ analysis of Iraq as “guessing” ? for political reasons. He’s ignored the advice of his own generals about troop requirements for the upcoming elections ? for political reasons. And assaults on Baathist enclaves have been postponed until December ? for fairly obvious political reasons.

And Thursday’s press conference was just scary. It’s no longer clear if George Bush is merely a cynical, calculating politician ? which would be bad enough ? or if he actually believes all the happy talk about Iraq that his speechwriters produce for him. Increasingly, though, it seems like the latter: he genuinely doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on. What’s more, his staff is keeping him in a sort of Nixonian bubble, afraid to tell him the truth and afraid to take any positive action for fear that it might affect the election.

So things will just get worse, since no one is willing to admit the truth and no one is willing to propose serious action to keep things from deteriorating further ? at least not until after November 2nd. But by then it will be too late. And when the Iraqi elections fail, what happens then?

What’s Plan E?