Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser for President George H.W. Bush and a leading figure in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, said yesterday that he has grown pessimistic about prospects for stability and democracy in Iraq, a view increasingly expressed by other foreign policy figures in both parties.
"The Iraqi elections, rather than turning out to be a promising turning point, have the great potential for deepening the conflict," Scowcroft said. He said he expects increased divisions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims after the Jan. 30 elections, when experts believe the government will be dominated by the majority Shiites.
Scowcroft predicted "an incipient civil war" would grip Iraq and said the best hope for pulling the country from chaos would be to turn the U.S. operation over to NATO or the United Nations -- which, he said, would not be so hostilely viewed by Iraqis.
Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy group, Scowcroft also said the continued U.S. presence in Iraq is inflaming the Middle East, hurting the U.S. war on terrorism.
Scowcroft, who has been close to the Bush family, has staked out an independent and critical stand on pivotal foreign policy issues facing the administration. Until recently he served as chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, but his tenure was not extended by the administration.
With the Iraqi election less than a month away, top former officials and other foreign policy analysts are increasingly skeptical in public about Iraq. Scowcroft shared the podium with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser. "I do not think we can stay in Iraq in the fashion we're in now," Brzezinski said. "If it cannot be changed drastically, it should be terminated." He said it would take 500,000 troops, $500 billion and resumption of the military draft to ensure adequate security in Iraq.
The most optimistic outcome to expect, Brzezinski said, is that Iraq will become a Shiite-dominated theocracy, "not what we would normally call a democracy."
Scowcroft joked that both men were considered "realists" during their lifelong careers, but he noted that "it's become a pejorative term" during a Bush administration filled with idealists whose stated goal is to spread democracy in the Middle East.
Yesterday, Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors -- Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia -- met in Jordan to urge Iraqi Sunnis to vote in upcoming elections to counter Shiite Iran's rising influence in the country. Most Sunni leaders have urged a boycott of elections, which could guarantee their disenfranchisement.
"We expect all the religious and political affiliations to participate in Iraqi elections so that no group would feel it is marginalized in future," Jordan's King Abdullah told a Kuwait newspaper, according to Reuters. "Our duty is not to watch idly with our hands tied. We warn against any effort to fragment the unity of any Arab state."
Geoffrey Kemp, Reagan administration National Security Council director on Near East affairs, said U.S. goals on Iraq have to shrink. "Obviously we're in trouble. The question is whether it is a lost cause," he said. "I think we'll clearly have a better picture on February 1st or once the elections are out of the way -- or if the elections are postponed.
"There is an exit strategy that does not have to be disastrous provided that Iraq doesn't descend into anarchy and chaos," he said. "But what the president has to do is prepare the American people for a definition of winning that is clearly far less grandiose than the anticipated outcome when Saddam's statue was toppled."
William Kristol, the chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle who is now editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said: "It's an odd moment. It's both very worrisome on security and very promising on the political side."
He said: "If the security stays bad enough or gets worse, it could destroy the political progress. If the insurgency can be kept under control, we could have a real election."
Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and now senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said "a remarkable lack of facts" about the Iraqi insurgents, casualties, the strength of Iraqi-trained security, unemployment and reconstruction progress hampers analysis.
"It's not dire," he said, ". . . but day after day we are not winning in a decisive way."
"It's very obvious that we are not in control. It's equally obvious that we are scarcely defeated," Cordesman said. ". . . Our success more and more depends on, not on our skill at war, but whether the Iraqis as political leaders can lead and govern, whether Iraqi security and military forces can take up the burden of the counterinsurgency battle and whether Iraqis can form a state. If they fail politically or fail to govern or fail to provide adequate military or security forces, nothing we do military or politically or with our allies is going to matter."