CBS News Reporter Charles Wolfson is a former Tel Aviv bureau chief for CBS News, who now covers the State Department.
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer no longer rules the roost in Baghdad and the Coalition Provisional Authority no longer exists. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, leader of Iraq's interim government, is clearly in charge in Iraq these days, notwithstanding almost daily efforts by insurgents to challenge his authority. John Negroponte, the new U.S. ambassador in Baghdad is keeping a low profile, which is what the Bush administration wants and what Allawi needs to show 25 million Iraqis that Washington is no longer pulling the strings of political power.
Security, however, remains a problem, and is in fact the big problem, just as it was before when Bremer and his CPA ran the show. The American military is not only responsible for allowing the political mechanisms to be set up so Allawi and his government could assume power, it is also the glue that keeps Allawi's power in place. With luck this situation will hold until elections can be held, perhaps in six months time.
Back in Washington the political season is as warm as Washington's heat and humidity index and everyone in the administration is busy making, and re-making, the case to justify the war in Iraq. This week, Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech at The U.S. Institute of Peace, once again defended the administration's case against Saddam Hussein.
"The question that always comes up, of course is, 'Did we do the right thing?' And the answer is, yes, we did the right thing," Powell said.
There was a re-statement of Saddam's defiance of the U.N., of the intelligence that Powell said everyone agreed showed the former Iraqi leader's intent to develop a weapons of mass destruction capability.
OK, Powell conceded, no stockpiles have been found but, moving to the immediate task, he said, "Now, the challenge before us is not to get faint, not to let the problems we're having in security now deterring us from our real purpose, and that is to bring democracy to this part of the world, thereby fundamentally changing this part of the world, fundamentally reshaping history for the 21st century."
Now you know. It wasn't Saddam's defiance of U.N. resolutions for twelve years; nor Iraq's links to terrorism, real or imagined; nor the intelligence reports, accurate or not, about WMD programs. The real reason we went to war was to reshape history for the 21st century. Powell confessed again this week that we now know, a year later, there "were some errors" in the case he made to justify war before the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003.
The interesting thing about Powell's remarks is the apparent feeling inside the administration of the constant need to keep making them. And the reason for that is simple: presidential politics. Because the Bush administration's game plan did not go according to plan (no, it wasn't the "slam dunk" then CIA Director George Tenet promised the president it would be) it was left to deal with a post-conflict rear guard insurgency which continues today.
The case for taking the country to war, and the need to defend the human and financial costs, has become one of the main points of political debate between President George W. Bush and his challenger, Senator John Kerry and there's every indication this will remain the case until November.
Someone with knowledge of both the current situation in Iraq and the administration's concerns about how to proceed says, "I don't think this administration is committed. You can feel it at the political level. They (the Bush administration) want out."
Of course you hear the opposite from Powell. "And we have to stay strong with the Iraqis who are now stepping forward. We have to make sure that they know that we will not falter, we will not wilt, we will have no second thoughts about the commitment we have made to these people, that we have made to this country."
It will not be until well after November's election in the U.S. and perhaps not until well after elections are held in Iraq early next year that we will know the true nature of Washington's commitment to the people of Iraq, let alone this administration's effort at "fundamentally reshaping history for the 21st century."
By Charles Wolfson
Copyright 2004 CBS. All rights reserved.