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Reality sends chills through halls of power


By JOSEPH L. GALLOWAY
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - A truly horrible summer that seemed unending is finally fading away, and the cold winds of reality are blowing down the collars of a president and the key players in his administration. Those winds could foretell an even more terrible winter ahead.

The folks who prided themselves on sticking to the message like grass-burrs on a hairy dog suddenly are all over the map on everything that counts when you are a lame-duck president whose party is going into a critical midterm congressional election next year.

The president's second-term "piece de resistance," Social Security reform, is dead on arrival. His cherished tax breaks for rich Americans are on life support. His generals are saying we need to reduce the American presence in Iraq because just by being there we are infuriating the typical Iraqi and thus fanning the flames of the insurgency we are trying to defeat.

The hard-nosed Texan Tom DeLay, who manages the president's agenda in Congress, has had to step down after being indicted on three felony counts of election law violations down home.

In Washington, a federal grand jury is investigating the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity. If it's going to indict some of the president's leading men, it must act before Oct. 28 when its writ runs out. What will George W. Bush do if his brain, Karl Rove, is charged with conspiracy or perjury? What if Rove is joined in the dock by Dick Cheney's right-hand man, Scooter Libby?

The word on the streets of Washington and in the halls of the Pentagon is that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is seriously considering handing in his letter of resignation sometime this month.

The generals who run the war in Iraq - Central Command boss Gen. John Abizaid and ground commander Gen. George Casey - came to town last week and let slip the awful truth about our efforts to stand up an Iraqi army and security force.

Although the Americans have spent a small fortune training and equipping more than 200,000 Iraqi soldiers and militia and police, the generals concede that only one battalion of perhaps 700 troops is actually capable of operating against the home-grown insurgents and the foreign jihad terrorists.

After two years only one battalion can stand alone without American guidance, backup, direction and fire support.

This was the only real hope of beginning to hand off responsibility for Iraq's future to Iraqis. And it has blown away on those cold winds blowing through the nation's capital.

The president was quick to slap down any thought of reducing the American presence on the roads and streets of Iraq - a presence the generals report is no longer stifling the insurgency but actually feeding it because we are there. No longer converting Iraqis to Jeffersonian democracy but creating new converts to terrorism and resistance.

The president, at a news conference, simply ignored the best advice of his generals and the growing firestorm both in Iraq and America over the future of our occupation of Iraq and declared: "We're not leaving Iraq. We will succeed in Iraq."

The president is still "staying the course" as the people following him fall further and further behind. We have written before, and will again: Staying the course only makes sense if you are on the right course. Otherwise you are just walking deeper into the swamp and the quicksand waiting ahead.

If that wasn't enough, new life was blown into the prisoner abuse scandal this past week by a young West Point-educated captain, Ian Fishback, who didn't like what he was hearing about the physical abuse of Iraqi detainees by soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division and asked his superiors for guidance on standards of conduct.

Eventually he went public and wrote to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the top-ranking members of the Senate Armed Service Committee. His actions helped ensure that an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would flatly outlaw any cruel and unusual treatment of detainees in American custody anywhere in the world would pass over Bush's threat of a veto and the Republican Senate leadership's attempt to block a vote.

The amendment is sponsored by McCain, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-N.C., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. Some who opposed it went so far as to say publicly that our forces should be given the freedom to use the terrorists' own methods against those we capture.

If we are to become as cruel and inhumane as al-Qaeda, then why fight al-Qaeda? We will then have become no better than al-Qaeda and we might as well make deals with Osama bin Laden as we once sent people like Rumsfeld to do deals with Saddam Hussein.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Readers may write to him at jgalloway@krwashington.com

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Well put.

We should not like to see any high Bush official (say, Rummie) leave the job except in a "perp walk".

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