Peter Rodman
Peter Rodman
  Enlarge Photo    
Tuesday, March 18, 2008; 8:14 PM

Peter W. Rodman took sides long ago on the question of regime change in Iraq: "Since I'm a historical relic, let me go back to the revolution. We had a Saddam Hussein problem in the 1970s," a time of "Soviet-backed radicalism, of which Saddam was one exemplar."

Rodman was an assistant to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon White House at the time. Nothing he learned as an official in subsequent Republican administrations changed his mind about the Iraqi dictator. In 1998, he was one of 18 signers of a letter from the Project for the New American Century that urged President Bill Clinton to "act decisively" to overthrow Hussein and "end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. and its allies."

As a senior member of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's team, Rodman was even more convinced of "a Saddam problem that had to be dealt with." Even without the WMD, he said, Hussein was a destabilizing power in the Middle East who brutalized his own people.

Now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Rodman acknowledges that there were miscalculations -- chief among them the Pentagon's "mistaken assumption" that Iraqi institutions would survive an invasion, quickly stabilize the country and allow U.S. troops to leave. "It turned out to be a much more thorough-going vacuum than anybody predicted. Anybody."

But now, just as the strategy of the past year seems to be slowly succeeding, is not the time to pull out, he says. "I used to joke: If this president really wanted to screw the Democrats, he would adopt the position that they're pushing in Congress and Iraq would really go to hell. . . . In Iraq, things obviously are better now. It's good for the country, and it's good for the next president, who can decide this at some leisure whether or not to have an explosion on his or her hands."

He adds: "Ask me in five years, 'Was this a good idea or not?' . . . If things settle down, we'll look back and say, 'Well, we've got a stable, moderate Iraq, and it was messy and costly and a lot of things we didn't anticipate.' But geopolitically, we have an Iran problem and it's a lot better that we don't have a Saddam problem anymore."

-- Karen DeYoung

© 2008 The Washington Post Company