Monday, November 20, 2006

Kissinger Says Victory in Iraq Is No Longer Possible


WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 — Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, who regularly advises President Bush on Iraq, said today that a full military victory was no longer possible there. He thus joined a growing number of leading conservatives openly challenging the administration’s conduct of the war and positive forecasts for it.

The Reach of War

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“If you mean, by ‘military victory,’ an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don’t believe that is possible,” Mr. Kissinger told BBC News.

In Washington, a leading Republican supporter of the war, Senator John McCain of Arizona, said American troops in Iraq were “fighting and dying for a failed policy.”

But Mr. McCain continued to argue vigorously for a short-term surge in American forces, and he gained a vocal ally in Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another influential Republican, who said, “We’re going to lose this war if we don’t adjust quickly.”

The comments came at a sensitive time, just as the Bush administration, deeply frustrated by the persistent chaos in Iraq — where more than 50 people died in violence today — and stung by Republicans’ electoral setbacks on Nov. 7, has undertaken an intense search for new approaches to the war.

Mr. Kissinger, in the BBC interview, said the United States must open talks with Iraq’s neighbors, pointedly including Iran, if progress is to be achieved in Iraq. Mr. Bush has said the United States is ready for such talks, but only if Iran moves to halt its nuclear enrichment work. American officials say low-level talks with Syria have produced little progress.

But Mr. Kissinger also said that a hasty withdrawal from Iraq would have “disastrous consequences,” leaving not only Iraq but neighboring countries with large Shiite populations destabilized for years.

He said the United States would probably have to plot a road between military victory and total withdrawal.

The comments reflected a markedly more pessimistic view than Mr. Kissinger has expressed publicly in the past. The book “State of Denial” by Bob Woodward quotes Mr. Kissinger as saying in September 2005 that the only exit strategy for Iraq was victory.

Analysts of the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies are working feverishly to complete a report for the White House meant to lay out American options in Iraq.

They hope to do so before a much-awaited review from the bipartisan commission headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, which is expected by mid-December. The Baker group has sought Kissinger’s advice.

As those projects go forward, three proposals — not necessarily mutually exclusive — have emerged, and today senior lawmakers argued them all: to quickly begin a phased troop withdrawal as a means to compel the Iraqi government to seize greater responsibilities, to temporarily increase American troop strength to bolster security before initiating a withdrawal, and to engage Iraq’s neighbors in talks aimed at halting their support for unrest in Iraq.

Mr. McCain, a respected figure on military matters who is exploring a presidential bid in 2008, has argued before for more troops, and he made the case passionately today.

“I believe the consequences of failure are catastrophic,” McCain told ABC News. “It will spread to the region. You will see Iran more emboldened.”

Mr. Graham, a fellow member of the Armed Services Committee, had hinted Wednesday, when his committee questioned General John P. Abizaid, commander of American forces in the Middle East, that he backed McCain; and he made this clear today.

“We need an overwhelming presence in Iraq for the short term,” he told CBS News.

General Abizaid said Wednesday that while the American military could find an additional 20,000 troops for a short deployment, the nation’s ability to stay longer was “simply not something that we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine corps.”

Mr. Graham said he disagreed with Mr. Kissinger about the impossibility of a military victory in Iraq. But as someone who was able to visit the open-air markets of Baghdad to buy a rug on his first Iraq visit — but had to travel in a tank during his latest — Mr. Graham said that matters were “absolutely” worse.

Mr. Kissinger said that a rapid withdrawal could have “disastrous consequences.”

“If you withdraw all the forces without any international understanding and without any even partial solution of some of the problems, civil war in Iraq will take on even more violent forms and achieve dimensions that are probably exceeding those that brought us into Yugoslavia with military force,” he said.