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.
“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.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat who will become chairman of the Armed Services Committee when the new Congress convenes in January, has led the calls for a phased withdrawal, to begin within months, as a way to jolt Iraqi leaders into grasping greater control.
“If you don’t do that, they’re going to continue to have the false assumption that we’re there in some kind of open-ended way,” he said today on CNN.
But a phased withdrawal could leave Iraq perilously vulnerable, military analysts say, not just to internal violence but to its neighbors — Iran, Syria and possibly even Turkey, should it decide to send forces into the north of Iraq to pursue Kurdish guerrillas.
A growing number of lawmakers, and reportedly the Baker commission, favor intense direct negotiations with those neighbors to ensure their cooperation.
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, cited Mr. Kissinger’s own negotiations with the North Vietnamese in arguing for engagement with Iran and Syria.
“If you pursue legitimate diplomacy, the way Henry Kissinger did when he made multiple trips, night after night, day after day, twisting arms, working; if you make the effort that Jim Baker did to build a legitimate coalition, I’m confident we can do what’s necessary to get the neighborhood — and I include in that Iran and Syria — to take greater stakes,” Mr. Kerry told Fox News.
Mr. McCain said he was not against talks with Syria and Iran, but questioned whether Iran had sufficient reason to cooperate. “Iranians are on the ascendancy if we fail” in Iraq, he said, “so it’s going to be very difficult to find common interests.”
Several conservatives who had strongly supported the war have since fallen out with the administration.
One of them, Kenneth Adelman, a former assistant secretary of defense, said on CNN that the management of the war “just breaks your heart.”
Mr. Adelman, who had famously predicted that the invasion of 2003 would be a “cakewalk,” criticized the decisions that allowed widespread looting after the fall of Baghdad, as well as the dismissals of Iraqi military and civilian officials.
He is no longer on speaking terms with Vice President Dick Cheney, according to The Washington Post, which quoted him in an article today as saying: “This didn’t have to be managed this bad. It’s awful.”