Why the troops should stay in Iraq

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

There is noth­ing much wrong with Iraq that can’t be im­proved by hav­ing fewer Amer­i­can troops there. So con­tend out­go­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald Rums­feld, the an­ti­war stal­wart Rep. John Murtha, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat, and ap­par­ently the James Baker-Lee Hamil­ton-led Iraq Study Group.

The ISG’s re­port was re­leased Dec. 6. At first it seemed it would rec­om­mend a steady draw­down of the Amer­i­can com­bat role through­out the next year, to end en­tirely by 2008. Now, it seems the rec­om­men­da­tion is vaguer, sug­gest­ing Pres­i­dent Bush kinda maybe, if con­di­tions are right, based on the judg­ment of U.S. com­man­ders act­ing with all due dili­gence, should re­duce the U.S. com­bat role some­time.

The logic be­hind this pro­posal has al­ready been set out by Mr. Rums­feld and Mr. Murtha. In a clas­si­fied Nov. 6 memo, Mr. Rums­feld fa­vor­ably men­tioned the idea of mod­est re­duc­tions in U.S. troops “so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks.” In sup­port of his pro­posal for a with­drawal, Mr. Murtha says: “We can­not ex­pect the Iraqi peo­ple to take over un­less we give them in­cen­tive. [. . .] I’m con­vinced there’ll be more sta­bil­ity, less chaos.” Ob­vi­ously, Mr. Rums­feld and Mr. Murtha dis­agree on much, but their pre­ferred approach shares enough that it roughly can be called the Rums­feld-Murtha Op­tion. Would it work?

If Amer­i­can troops are con­tribut­ing to in­sta­bil­ity in Iraq, then the An­bar Prov­ince — where Amer­i­can troops have al­ways been too thin on the ground — should be an oa­sis of calm. Cities un­pa­trolled by Amer­i­cans should be or­derly, with well­func­tion­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ments. No droopy socks should be in sight. Of course, the op­po­site is the case. Cities like Tal Afar and Fal­lu­jah — in­un­dated by Amer­i­can troops — are rel­a­tively stable, while the rest of the prov­ince is be­ing taken over by al Qaeda.

The Rums­feld-Murtha Op­tion is based on the the­ory that the Iraqis are hang­ing back, en­joy­ing the lux­ury of hav­ing their coun­try oc­cu­pied by 140,000 for­eign in­fi­dels. The sim­ple rea­son the Iraqi gov­ern­ment isn’t step­ping up, how­ever, is that it doesn’t have enough func­tion­ing troops. Mr. Rums­feld and Mr. Murtha are cor­rect, in one sense, that Iraqis will step for­ward to take con­trol of their coun­try when we be­gin to leave, ex­cept those Iraqis will be the likes of Muq­tada al-Sadr — ex­trem­ists who have built private armies that are more ef­fec­tive than any fight­ing force in the coun­try, out­side the U.S. mil­i­tary.

That is why U.S. troops are the only hope for sta­bil­ity in Iraq. Newsweek mag­a­zine re­ports on an ex­change be­tween two gen­er­als about the un­der­manned, failed Bagh­dad se­cu­rity plan. A four-star gen­eral asked Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who was run­ning day-to-day ground op­er­a­tions: “Do you have enough forces? Enough to clear an area and stay there to se­cure it 24/7?” Gen. Chiarelli replied, “Of course not.” The four-star then pre­dicted, “It’s go­ing to fail, it’s ab­so­lutely go­ing to fail.”

At one time, lib­er­als un­der­stood this dy­namic bet­ter than many con­ser­va­tives. Once, they touted Gen. Eric Shin­seki’s rec- om­men­da­tion — blown off by Mr. Rums­feld — that it would take hun­dreds of thou­sands of U.S. troops to pacify Iraq. But now it’s lib­er­als who call for a Rums­fel­dian pol­icy of fewer boots on the ground. This shift makes sense if lib­er­als think the war is ir­re­triev­ably lost. There is ev­i­dence for that propo­si­tion, but none for the Rums­feld-Murtha ar­gu­ment that Iraq will be a bet­ter place, with a stronger cen­tral gov­ern­ment, if we be­gin to leave.

Since Pres­i­dent Bush is not ready to quit in Iraq, he was right to fire Mr. Rums­feld and has been right to re­ject Mr. Murtha’s call for a pull­out. Mr. Bush also must re­buff any fi­nessed ver­sion of the Rums­feldMurtha Op­tion of­fered by the ISG. As re­tired Gen. Barry McCaf­frey has noted, if we re­duce our com­bat power in Iraq be­yond a cer­tain point, even the min­i­mal pres­ence of Amer­i­can lo­gis­tics troops needed to sup­port the Iraqi army will be un­sus­tain­able — “we’ll end up with 5,000 U.S. troops hostage in that coun­try.”

The Rums­feld-Murtha Op­tion is wish­ful think­ing at its worst.

Rich Lowry is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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