Architects of Iraq war put on the defensive
Policy shifts and congressional hearings signal a new climate for neoconservatives.
The neoconservative policymakers who helped spur George W. Bush toward war in Iraq may not be on the way out, but their influence is undergoing its greatest test since Sept. 11.Skip to next paragraph
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This week, Congress has grilled key promoters of the idea of transforming the Middle East, and spreading American values, through regime change in Iraq. Gone is the self-assuredness - some say arrogance - that typified Bush administration testimony through the end of "major hostilities." Gone, too, are claims that Americans would be greeted as liberators and then soon leave, or that Iraqi oil would quickly defray reconstruction costs.
Instead, Washington is witnessing a course correction on Iraq that signals a number of shifts with long-term repercussions, including:
• A wider door to the international community that includes acknowledgment of other countries' interests.
• Heightened congressional scrutiny exemplified by a tighter clutch on the purse strings and more aggressive oversight.
• Less ideology-driven policy, which, among other things, means moving more quickly to encourage Iraqi dominance of Iraq's affairs, even if the results aren't fully in America's image.
Whether the neoconservative dream of Iraq as a beacon of democracy to the region is fulfilled is still up in the air, and won't be determined in the short-term, analysts say. But a more pragmatic approach means the chances of that happening may be brighter, some experts believe.
"At last we're beginning to do what we did with Afghanistan and about Al Qaeda: We're highballing the challenge ahead," says John Hulsman, a foreign-policy expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. It was a mistake for the administration to "low-ball" the challenge, he adds, because "it left them open to charges and exposed a fair amount of hubris. But the president's acknowledging [in his speech Sunday] that things aren't going well tells me that's going to change."
The clearest sign of such a change is seen in the administration's reaching out to the UN to get more troops and financial help from other countries. That effort shifts into high gear this weekend as Secretary of State Colin Powell meets with the foreign ministers of the four other members of the UN Security Council at a rare summit in Geneva.
The administration's shift began when things didn't go in postwar Iraq as the administration had anticipated: Troops were supposed to have begun coming home by now, while no guerrilla war threatening Iraq's security and stability was planned for.
The impact of that hit Congress this week, where Democrats and some moderate Republicans questioned planning for the postwar period. Some went so far as to suggest that certain policymakers - read primarily idealistic neoconservatives - pushed America to war by deliberately underestimating the postwar challenge.