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[casi] The Chalabi-Rumsfeld approach finally prevails

The Iraqi Imperative
The Chalabi-Rumsfeld approach finally prevails.

Friday, November 14, 2003 12:01 a.m. EST

Amid insurgent bombs in Iraq, and campaign rhetoric at home, it's easy to
get confused about the U.S. war effort. Opponents are insisting that it's
all a failure, and even some fair-weather interventionists are moving
themselves to a safe political distance. So it's time to repeat that the
only way to win in Iraq is if Iraqis begin to take charge of their own
self-government and security.
No one outside the Council on Foreign Relations ever imagined the plan was
for even a semi-permanent U.S. occupation. The idea was to liberate the
country from Saddam, then establish a political process in which Iraqis
could compete and govern themselves. If the Bush Administration has made a
mistake in Iraq, it was in not beginning that process well before the war,
with a government-in-exile and a large Iraqi security force. President Bush
came down on the side of the State Department and CIA officials who opposed
such an effort.

Six months after the fall of Baghdad, we are still paying for that mistake.
The U.S. military is now rapidly training border police and a new Iraqi
Civil Defense Corps, and even recruiting former members of Saddam's army who
aren't implicated in his criminal behavior. Meanwhile, U.S. regent L. Paul
Bremer was called to Washington this week and ordered to speed up the
transition to Iraqi self-rule.

What we are finally moving toward, in short, is precisely what Ahmed Chalabi
and his Pentagon allies urged all along: A provisional government defended
by a large Iraqi security force in addition to U.S. troops. The State
Department attempt to re-create the Philadelphia of 1787 in Baghdad, and to
provide a perfectly level playing field between exiles and indigenous
Iraqis, has proven to be a costly failure. It has given the Baathists time
to regroup, and one result is that the Sunni parts of the country will now
be even harder to reconcile to a new Iraq.

As for a provisional government, we'd be happy if the U.S. simply selected
somebody and got behind him--at this stage almost any plausible democrat, a
la Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. An alternative would be to let the Governing
Council elect one of its own. The important point is that Iraqis begin to
exercise authority, take responsibility for doing so, and be recognized for
it by the Iraqi people.

The alternative offered by the American left of turning things over to the
U.N. is simply a global version of the State Department's 1787 illusion. The
Baathist remnants aren't killing GIs because they prefer a "multilateral"
transition to democracy. They want to return to power to tyrannize other
Iraqis. They are hardly making distinctions now between Americans or
Italians, or for that matter Iraqis who are helping us.

The silver bullet offered by some on the right, meanwhile, is more U.S.
troops. Senator John McCain is the leader of this camp, and unlike the left
he is rooting for American victory. But if more troops were the answer, we
assume that the officers responsible for winning this war would ask for
them. The line that they are too "cowed" by Donald Rumsfeld is an insult to
Generals Richard Myers, Peter Pace, John Abizaid and Ricardo Sanchez, who
are well aware of the military criticism of Vietnam-era generals who didn't
speak their mind.

More resources might help in some places, but more important is the kind of
resources and how they are used. Throwing a field artillery unit into a
counter-insurgency operation would merely create more targets. The current
U.S. military is constrained in the number of light infantry and military
police it can deploy at a given moment. Tours of duty have already been
extended, and reserve and National Guard units called up.

In short, there's a limit to what can be accomplished without harming morale
and thereby future recruitment and retention. The military brass also
recognize that even 100,000 more troops won't make a difference without
better intelligence, especially to conduct counter-insurgency in the Sunni
Triangle. General Abizaid is also understandably worried that more U.S.
troops might signal to many Iraqis that the Americans never intend to leave.

The McCain faction may have a point that you can't emphasize the
"transforming" effects of precision weaponry at the expense of an adequate
number of light infantry, or boots on the ground. But that problem won't be
solved by blaming Mr. Rumsfeld. The Defense Secretary's critics would do
better to support reforms like his proposed changes to Pentagon civil
service rules, which could enable better allocation of scarce resources in
the future.

The immediate challenge in Iraq is to deploy forces with the language skills
and local knowledge to root out the Baathists and foreign jihadis. Far from
signaling a lack of American resolve, "Iraqification" is the key. This is
also a lesson of Vietnam, where anti-insurgency efforts improved sharply
once General Creighton Abrams dropped the mantra of "more troops" and
adopted a strategy of Vietnamization.

One underreported story in Iraq today is that while attacks on coalition
troops and soft targets are increasing, general law enforcement and
infrastructure protection have been greatly improved by the increasing
number of Iraqi police and security forces. Involving them more heavily in
counter-insurgency is the next logical step. Putting some Iraqi forces under
the command of a provisional government is also well worth considering. The
Kurds and the Iraqi National Congress have excellent intelligence operations
that we should allow them to exploit.

Notwithstanding the panic and criticism in some quarters, the U.S. can
defeat the Iraq insurgency. But that will only happen if enough Iraqis begin
to see that they have a stake in their own security and self-government.

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