Nav­i­gat­ing the war gulf

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

The search for a so­lu­tion to the war in Iraq has been put on hold in the gov­ern­ment un­til a bi­par­ti­san, 10-mem­ber com­mis­sion sub­mits its rec­om­men­da­tions next month.

Af­ter a vol­canic elec­tion that ousted Repub­li­cans and put Democrats in charge of Congress, largely be­cause of mount­ing U.S. war ca­su­al­ties, a huge gulf still ex­ists over what to do next.

Pres­i­dent Bush, ad­mit­ting to deep frus­tra­tion over the course of the war, is open to “fresh ideas” about how to fight the war, says chief of staff Josh Bolten. Democrats, who won two weeks ago on the prom­ise of a new mil­i­tary strat­egy, still have no de­tailed plan of their own, ex­cept with­drawal. Their lead­ers said on the Sun­day talk shows they would push for phased troop re­duc­tions when they take over in Jan­uary.

The chief ar­chi­tect of Mr. Bush’s mil­i­tary strat­egy, De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald Rums­feld, has sub­mit­ted his res­ig­na­tion and a new de­fense chief, Robert Gates, who has spent most of his pro­fes­sional life in intelligence work and is known as a com­pro­miser, will take over once the Se­nate con­firms him.

Mean­time, all hopes now rest with the con­gres­sion­ally sanc­tioned blue rib­bon Iraq Study Group, a spe­cial com­mis­sion led by for­mer Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State James A. Baker III and for­mer In­di­ana Rep. Lee H. Hamil­ton, a Demo­crat, to de­vise a new plan to try to end a ter­ror­ist and sec­tar­ian war with no end in sight. The panel has in­ter­viewed Iraqi lead­ers, U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and this week met with Mr. Bush and se­nior de­fense and intelligence of­fi­cials.

Strangely, the panel, which in­cludes for­mer Clin­ton chief of staff Leon Panetta, Clin­ton pal Ver­non Jor­dan, and for­mer Supreme Court Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Con­nor, has few mil­i­tary/for­eign pol­icy ex­perts. More­over, there is lit­tle or no ev­i­dence thus far that Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamil­ton have been able to come up with a con­sen­sus that can ap­peal to both sides.

In his few re­cent me­dia in­ter­views, Mr. Baker ex­pressed doubt a U.S. troop with­drawal can be pulled off with­out a full-scale civil war that plunges the coun­try into chaos.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Hamil­ton told The Wash­ing­ton Post “We need to reach agree­ment, and that may not be pos­si­ble.” Trans­la­tion: Panel Democrats may not go along with any­thing that does not in­clude some troop with­drawal next year, nor will House and Se­nate Democrats.

The gulf that ex­ists in the Se­nate, for ex­am­ple, is ex­em­pli­fied by two wildly di­ver­gent po­si­tions. Demo­cratic Sen. Carl Levln of Michi­gan, the in­com­ing Armed Ser­vices Com- mit­tee chair­man, wants “to be­gin a phased re­de­ploy­ment of forces from Iraq in four to six months.” Repub­li­can Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona wants to send more troops there, warn­ing any with­drawal would re­sult in chaos not only in Iraq but through­out the Mideast.

Mean­while, the ter­ror­ist and sec­tar­ian war­fare wors­ens each week and many in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion are los­ing con­fi­dence in Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki’s gov­ern­ment. Mr. Bush won­ders pri­vately whether the Iraqis will ever be able to pro­duce civil­ian lead­ers strong enough to over­come the ter­ror in­sur­gency.

In this nearly hope­less en­vi­ron­ment, Mr. Baker is search­ing to bring out­side ad­ver­saries, like Syria and Iran, into a so­lu­tion. He held a three-hour din­ner meet­ing with Iran’s U.N. am­bas­sador that raised eye­brows among neo­con­ser­va­tives who sup­port the war.

Clearly there will be Demo­cratic with­drawal res­o­lu­tions next year, if not be­fore, though Mr. Levin told The Post any troop mea­sure “would not con­tain de­tailed bench­marks man­dat­ing how many troops should be with­drawn by spe­cific dates.”

It is un­clear what Mr. Baker’s panel will pro­duce, but my in­stincts tell me any plan to save Iraq must ul­ti­mately in­volve a feared Iraqi force that can more quickly take over the se­cu­rity of its coun­try. That force must in­crease so we can de­crease.

Re­con­struc­tion and all other forms of non­com­bat, non­mil­i­tary aid must give way to one over­rid­ing mis­sion: re­cruit­ing and train­ing a much larger and more lethal Iraqi army, in­clud­ing spe­cial forces and a mil­i­tary po­lice force sec­ond to none. U.S. troops there must be turned into a train­ing, air lo­gis­tics and weapons sup­ply force as quickly as pos­si­ble.

A crit­i­cal strat­egy change: To pre­vent ter­ror­ists from killing more Iraqi re­cruits, train­ing must be done in se­cret, re­mote lo­ca­tions else­where in the re­gion. The job of the U.S. mil­i­tary af­ter­ward will be to arm th­ese beefed-up se­cu­rity forces to the teeth with the best and most lethal weaponry we can give them to fight for their coun­try for as long as it takes.

This is a page out of Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan’s play­book when he drove the Evil Em­pire out of Afghanistan and fought the Marx­ist guer­ril­las in now-demo­cratic Nicaragua — with­out the use of U.S. troops.

A plan that turns the U.S. mil­i­tary in Iraq into an en­larged re­cruit­ing and train­ing force can win sup­port from a di­vided Congress, as well as the Iraqis, be­cause it will has­ten the day when they’ll be do­ing all the fight­ing.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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