READING THE TEA LEAVES….Bob Novak, a conservative who who opposed the Iraq war, says “well placed sources” in the administration believe that George Bush will hastily retreat from Iraq if he wins reelection:

They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.

Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out.

The end product would be an imperfect Iraq….

Yes, an “imperfect” Iraq. That’s one way of putting it.

But let’s not get distracted here. Reader Tim F. wants to know what I think about Novak’s column, and that’s a hard question to answer. You see, it’s a choice between two implicit lies:

  • Option 1: Because there’s a presidential election coming up, Bush is claiming he’ll stay the course. Gotta look resolute, after all. But Novak is right: it’s just a sham, and as soon as some travesty of an election gives him an excuse, he’ll leave and let Iraq turn into chaos.

  • Option 2: Because there’s a presidential election coming up, Bush is claiming to have a plan to stabilize Iraq and withdraw. Can’t look like a warmonger, after all. But in reality he considers Iraq a strategic beachhead in the Middle East and has no intention of ever leaving, come what may.

You see my problem? There are people who want to believe both these things, and Bush’s team has every incentive to make sure each faction believes that Bush agrees with them. He’s lying to one of them, but which one?

Tough call.