A civil war? At the National Review, maybe

The editors accuse the founder of defeatism on Iraq.

Published February 27, 2006 6:07PM (EST)

We mentioned earlier today that some of the voices of Fox News have begun distancing themselves from George W. Bush on the war in Iraq. They're not alone. William F. Buckley, often ambivalent about the war, said last week that it's time for the Bush administration to "cope with failure" -- particularly with the failed assumption that the U.S. military "would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymakers to cope with insurgents bent on violence."

"Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements," Buckley wrote. "His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy. He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies. Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat."

We can only imagine how Buckley's words are sitting with a president who was, just a few months ago, helping to celebrate Buckley's birthday. But we don't have to guess how Buckley's conclusions are playing at the National Review itself.

In an editorial today, the National Review's current editors fire back at their founder: "If Iraq ever descends into a real civil war, we won't have to debate whether it has happened. It will be clear for all to see. The military will dissolve into ethnic factions, and the government will collapse. That hasn't happened, and so declarations of defeat in Iraq -- of the sort our founder and editor-at-large William F. Buckley Jr. made last week -- are pre-mature. That view could ultimately be proven right, but there is no way to know with certainty at this point ... The outcome depends, as is always the case, on the choices made by the players, including ourselves. Even if our influence in Iraq is waning, our commitment -- and the specific forms it takes -- still matters very much. Defeatism will be self-fulfilling."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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