The silence from Warblogistan on GWB’s redefinition of the term “regime change” has been deafening. Nothing from the Instapundit, nothing from the Volokh conspirators, nothing from Little Green Footballs, nothing from the Daily Standard, nothing from National Review Online. The peace party (Joshua Micah Marshall, for example) has been all over it. Is it possible that Bush is preparing to sell out the hawks?

The redefinition itself, as Marshall notes, is a considerable verbal triumph. “Regime change,” understood literally, means a more drastic change than a mere succession (Thatcher to Major, Reagan to Bush I), which in turn is more drastic than a change of government (Major to Blair, Clinton to Bush II), which in turn is more drastic than a mere change of policy. But now we hear that if SH disarms, that will mean that his regime has changed, so everything is hunky-dory. (Just to keep us guessing, Ari Fleischer immediately said that his boss hadn’t meant much of anything by it, since SH wasn’t going to change, making the question “the mother of all hypotheticals”.)

But verbal fun and games aside, what does it mean in the real world?

Is this just another Bush gesture to look as if he’s not panting for war in order to get some sort of use-of-force resolution through the Security Council? Who’s he going to fool? And does he really care, with Congressional authorization to go it alone if he has to?

It can hardly be for domestic consumption: two weeks before an election is no time to demobilize your base.

And there’s no way it could have been some sort of verbal slip: Colin Powell foreshadowed it the day before, and the remark itself is sufficiently un-Bush-like that it must have been prepared in advance. And while Fleischer was backing off, Rumsfeld wasn’t saying anything.

Here’s a piece of raw speculation: the Pentagon has finally delivered some war plans, and the casualty figures are so not happy-making that Bush, or someone around him, has developed a serious case of cold feet. I have no evidence for that, but right now I can’t come up with a better story.

Here’s another, which seems less likely: the Iraqis sent some sort of signal that they’d prefer Baghdad not be reduced to smoking rubble, and for some reason the Bush team believes it enough to want to dance it out.

I’ve been convinced for months that we were going to go to war with Iraq. Bush and the folks around him (save Colin Powell) seemed committed to it, and I didn’t see anyone who could stop it. And everything since then has pointed ever more firmly in that direction, with the Iraqis acting as if they had no intention of giving in peacefully. But now I don’t know. (And neither do the crude oil markets, down about six percent in two days.)

Illumination, please?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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