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Buried Lede Department--Goodbye, Democracy

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EDINBURGH--Thursday's NYT ran a story the lede of which was newsworthy enough, perhaps:

The number of roadside bombs planted in Iraq rose in July to the highest monthly total of the war, offering more evidence that the anti-American insurgency has continued to strengthen despite the killing of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld likes to say, those are only numbers. And you can only use the numbers you have.

But buried right at the end of the three-byline piece are three paragraphs that seem to me to be distinctly newsworthy, especially coming in the wake of the "Bush frustrated" stories early this week.

Yet some outside experts who have recently visited the White House said Bush administration officials were beginning to plan for the possibility that Iraq's democratically elected government might not survive.

"Senior administration officials have acknowledged to me that they are considering alternatives other than democracy," said one military affairs expert who received an Iraq briefing at the White House last month and agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity.

"Everybody in the administration is being quite circumspect," the expert said, "but you can sense their own concern that this is drifting away from democracy."

On its own, this information is striking: the last line of defense for the Iraq war, after WMD and connection to 9/11 crumbled, was the push for a democratic Middle East. If the centerpiece of that premise, Iraq, is to be consigned to "alternatives other than democracy"--i.e., a new Saddam to hold the fractious non-country together--that would seem to be big news. Combined with the "Bush frustrated" stories, it tells us something else: people high in the administration are beginning to leak like sieves. Can the circular firing squad be far behind?