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American Dien Bien Phu?

| Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006


What a spectacle America at war presents to the world.

A former president, red-faced, bawls his rage at Fox News' Chris Wallace, who had asked why he had not shut down bin Laden and Co. in the seven years he had to do it. The president of the United States declaims to a partisan audience in Alabama, "The Party of FDR and Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run."

Is this how the great republic fights and wins its wars?

America has taken on the aspect of France's Fourth Republic after the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Case in point: "State of Denial," by Bob Woodward of Watergate fame.

As White House press secretary Tony Snow said, the book is cotton candy. There seems to be little that is new, shocking or significant. That confidential memos at State and the National Security Council conflicted with the rosier rhetoric of President Bush is hardly news to a nation, a majority of whose people now believe Iraq was a mistake. All it means is that our commander in chief has tried to maintain the morale of the home front.

Among other revelations, we learn that Robert Blackwill of the NSC sent a memo to Condi Rice arguing that 40,000 more troops were needed in Iraq; that George Tenet and J. Cofer Black of the CIA went to see Condi to warn her something big was up, two months before 9/11; that chief of staff Andy Card pushed to have Donald Rumsfeld replaced; that Kissinger met often with President Bush to insist that victory is the only real exit strategy.

Among the more important revelations, however, is an unstated one. So badly are things going in Iraq that men who once had influence over U.S. war policy feel compelled to cut loose of that policy and of the policy-makers: Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. This book exposes their fear that America may be losing the war -- and their determination to swim clear of culpability before the ship goes down.

Of significant interest is the comment of Gen. Abizaid, Centcom commander, to two friends from Vietnam days: "We've got to get the (expletive) out of here," meaning out of Iraq.

Things are not going well in Afghanistan or Iraq, though we do not need another book to tell us that. The question that needs answering is: What do we do now?

According to the National Intelligence Estimate, leaked to The New York Times and partially declassified last week, our intel agencies believe the U.S. invasion of Iraq has so inflamed the Arab and Muslim world it has spawned terrorism. Yet the same NIE argues that a too-rapid withdrawal could mean collapse of the Iraqi regime, triumph for the jihadists and a calamity for the U.S.

But we did not need the NIE to tell us that, either. For the American public, 60 percent of whom believe Iraq was a mistake, also opposes immediate withdrawal, fearing the disaster of which the NIE warns.

Still, the Woodward book, the NIE and the savagery of this campaign seem certain to create a crisis for Bush after November. How, after all, when one's former aides are telling Woodward the White House and Pentagon blundered in their management of the war, does one convince the American people they did not?

How, after Bush has called the Democratic Party a cut-and-run crowd and Democrats have accused the White House and Pentagon of being incompetents in fighting the war in Iraq, does one ask for bipartisan support to stay the course• What do our troops in Iraq think when they read that their commanding general believes, "We've got to get the (expletive) out of here"?

France's defeat at Dien Bien Phu in Indochina led to a second war of national liberation in Algeria, the fall of the Fourth Republic and the call for Gen. de Gaulle to assume power. The general did, and he rang down the curtain on the French Empire.

Are we facing an American Dien Bien Phu?

Pat Buchanan edits The American Conservative magazine.

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