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God's Politics

Jim WallisIn yesterday’s confirmation hearing of Robert Gates, an extraordinary exchange took place. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who will become chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the next Congress, asked Gates: “Do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?” Gates replied, “No, sir.” With that simple answer, he directly contradicted everything the Bush administration has said for the last four years. Just six weeks ago at an October 25 press conference, the president was asked if the U.S. was winning in Iraq, and replied, “Absolutely, we’re winning.”

Finally, reality has set it. Or, more truthfully, it has been forced on the administration by the vote of the American people.

When he was asked, “Do you believe the Iranians are trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability?” Gates answered, “Yes, sir, I do.” But to the question, “Do you support an attack on Iran?” he replied, “I think that we have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes
unpredictable. And I think that the consequences of a conflict – a military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic. And therefore, I would counsel against military action, except as a last resort and if we felt that our vital interests were threatened.” That’s another difference from the rumors that continue to fly around Washington.

This morning, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group briefed President Bush on their report, which will be publicly released later today. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow, but news reports are saying it will call for the withdrawal of nearly all U.S. combat troops by early 2008 and urge talks with Iran and Syria – both of which the president has consistently opposed.

And finally, the resignation this week of John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. deserves a note. Bolton, who drew strong Senate opposition and was appointed by Bush without confirmation, was a combative figure who seemed to enjoy attacking the U.N. more than working with it. He now joins Donald Rumsfeld and a growing number of the other neoconservatives who led the charge into Iraq but are now on the sidelines.

Some of the former war leaders are now changing their minds. Kenneth Adelman, longtime friend of Donald Rumsfeld and supporter of the war as a member of his Defense Policy Board, told the New Yorker that at a meeting of the Board last summer, he said, “what we’re doing now is just losing.” Rumsfeld didn’t like to hear that. Adelman says, “He was in deep denial – deep, deep denial.” Rumsfeld’s response was to remove him from the Board, saying, “You’ve become disruptive and negative.”

The president reluctantly accepted Bolton’s resignation, and told reporters, “I’m not happy about it.” As a new national debate begins on Iraq, there will be many more things the president won’t be happy about, but may have to accept.

U.S. deaths have now reached 2,900, and Iraqi deaths are in the hundreds of thousands. For their families and loved ones, reality set in long ago. It is the reality that we must now all be accountable to every day in the new debate on Iraq.

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