WASHINGTON – Public support for the Iraq war is low. Lawmakers are battling the White House over money to pay for the combat. Suicide bombings continue in Baghdad.
Despite it all, J.D. Crouch, who is stepping down from his national security post at the White House, is confident history will prove that invading Iraq was the right thing to do.
Crouch, who has been President Bush's deputy national security adviser for more than two years, said the president never will be swayed by opposition to the war. Instead, Crouch said, Bush will use his resolve to help convince a broad section of Americans that it's important to be in Iraq.
"I think it was really the right thing to do, and I think history will bear that out," Crouch said emphatically in an interview Thursday.
Crouch, 48, said he's been thinking for months about leaving his job as deputy to the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. In announcing his resignation on Friday, Bush said Crouch has been "at the forefront in devising and implementing the new strategy to help build a peaceful, stable and secure Iraq."
The administration is still far from achieving that goal. But with the latest, top-to-bottom review of the war and another big project on detainees off his desk, Crouch said he thought it was time, for both him and his family, to leave the government for the private sector or academia.
Hadley said he'll miss Crouch's self-deprecating humor and the way his work discourages leaks.
"He was able to force people to step up to difficult issues, but do it in a way that everybody felt that they had a hearing and that the process was fair," Hadley said. "And that's one of the reasons why I think there has been very little leaking of squabbles of State versus Defense, which you've seen from time to time."
For several months last year, Crouch's cramped office in the West Wing that he'll vacate early next month was the nerve center for the Bush administration's top-to-bottom review of war strategy that culminated with the president's decision in January to send more troops to Iraq.
"It's going to still be tough and there's still going to be a lot of bad days out there, but definitely, we're already beginning to see some of the positive benefits," Crouch said, while acknowledging that even though Shia-Sunni violence has ebbed, terrorist attacks haven't.
"Al-Qaida is banging away with these large car bombs and truck bombs — first to get on the front pages of our newspapers but even more so to fuel that sectarian violence," he said. "Al-Qaida is like somebody standing there spraying gasoline on the fire. They're a real accelerant."
In his remaining time in office, Crouch says Bush hopes to see a stable Iraq and keep pressuring Iran not to develop a nuclear weapon.
Bush also wants to direct attention to his agenda of helping people around the world gain greater political freedom and economic prosperity.
"These are not things that can be solved by military solutions," Crouch said.
That might sound a bit soft from a man who in 1995 thought North Korea's nuclear program was so ominous that the United States should send more troops to South Korea, redeploy U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea and plan airstrikes against Pyongyang just in case talking to the North Koreans didn't work out.
"Diplomacy in Pyongyang without military power is appeasement, plain and simple," he wrote more than 10 years ago when he was associate professor of defense and strategic studies at Southwest Missouri State University.
His conservative comments became fodder for senators who grilled him in 2001 during confirmation hearings for his job as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy at the Pentagon. Though he'd changed his mind by then, he stuck to his guns.
"Given what I knew at the time, I stick by the recommendations," he told the senators.