On Tuesday, President Bush's first day back in the West Wing after a month at his ranch, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell walked into the Oval Office to present something close to a fait accompli.
In what was billed as a routine session, Powell told Bush that they had to go to the United Nations with a resolution seeking a U.N.-sanctioned military force in Iraq -- something the administration had resisted for nearly five months. Powell, whose department had long favored such an action, informed the commander in chief that the military brass supported the State Department's position despite resistance by the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, whose office had been slow to embrace the U.N. resolution, quickly agreed, according to administration officials who described the episode.
Thus was a long and high-stakes bureaucratic struggle resolved, with the combined clout of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the State Department persuading a reluctant White House that the administration's Iraq occupation policy, devised by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, simply was not working.
Jopsh Marshall of TPM has a fairly succinct analysis of these events:
Much of what happened and is happening here still seems murky. And to a significant degree this change of direction is less a matter of shrewd bureaucratic in-fighting than a simple, dawning acquaintance with reality on the part of everyone in the administration -- a realization that, as Fareed Zakaria put it last week, Plan A wasn't working. It would also be fair to say that the people around Powell -- if not necessarily Powell himself -- would not only like to internationalize the effort but to make the shift in policy itself appear as much as possible as a bureaucratic victory for State.
That Plan A wasn't working is a MASSIVE understatement - imagine what a mess things would be if the neocons had their way from the beginning! Back in May, they expected us to draw down our troops trength to only 30,000 by the fall of 2003!
This is on of those rare times where I think Bush actually wants to do the right thing. I don't equate Bush with the neocon cabal that has been given free reign over foreign policy thus far. I think Rumsfeld and Cheney have overplayed their hand. The irony here may be that the neocons wanted to invade Iraq on any pretext in order to fulfill their vision of American hegemony (the issue of Iraqi liberty is just one of those pretexts. Is there any doubt that a "free Iraq" actually means "a friendly Iraq that won't stab us in the back like Turkey did" ?
But Bush seems to be operating along the assumption that the stated pretexts were the actual ones. I think Bush actually believed that there were WMDs ready to launch in 45 minutes. I think Bush actually believes in a free Iraq. And this has created an opening for the only organ of the Administration with experience and wisdom to finally push the policy towards the Right Thing.
Unfortunately, Bush continues to play both sides of the fence - the proposed UN resolution is a non-starter. It's a sign of weak leadership, in that by trying to please both wings of his warring policymakers, he ends up achieving nothing. Bush is shaping up to be the anti-Reagan.
UPDATE: Kos has a must-read roundup of reaction to the Bush Administrations' "offer".