NYT columnist: "People" want strategy for "winning in Iraq"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Sep 2 02:15:51 MDT 2003

Policy Lobotomy Needed


No one can say with any certainty who was behind the bombings at the
U.N. headquarters in Baghdad and the Shiite holy place in Najaf, but
here is what you can say about them: They are incredibly sick and
incredibly smart.

With one bomb at the U.N. office, they sent a warning to every country
that is considering joining the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq: Even the
U.N. is not safe here, so your troops surely won't be. They also
stoked some vicious finger-pointing within the Western alliance. And
with the bomb Friday in Najaf, they may have threatened the most
pleasant surprise about post-Saddam Hussein Iraq: the absence of
bloodletting between the three main ethnic groups: Sunnis, Shiites and
Kurds. After the Najaf bombing, Shiites started blaming Sunnis, and
Shiites started blaming each other.

If you think we don't have enough troops in Iraq now, which we don't,
wait and see if the factions there start going at each other. America
would have to bring back the draft to deploy enough troops to separate
the parties. In short, we are at a dangerous moment in Iraq. We cannot
let sectarian violence explode. We cannot go on trying to do this on
the cheap. And we cannot succeed without more Iraqi and allied input.

But the White House and Pentagon have been proceeding as if it's
business as usual. It is no wonder that some of the people closest to
what is happening are no longer sitting quiet. The gutsy Deputy
Secretary of State Richard Armitage, acting on his own, told reporters
last week that the U.S. would consider a new U.N. resolution that
would put U.S. forces in Iraq under U.N. authority ó which is the
precondition for key allies to send troops. And Paul Bremer, who
oversees Iraq's reconstruction, told The Washington Post that it was
going to cost "several tens of billions" to rebuild Iraq. Both men
were telling the American people truths that should have come from the
White House.

Our Iraq strategy needs an emergency policy lobotomy. President Bush
needs to shift to a more U.N.-friendly approach, with more emphasis on
the Iraqi Army (the only force that can effectively protect religious
sites in Iraq and separate the parties), and with more input from
Secretary of State Colin Powell and less from the "we know everything
and everyone else is stupid" civilian team running the Pentagon.

There is no question that we would benefit from a new U.N. mandate
that puts U.S. forces in Iraq under a stronger U.N. umbrella. It would
buy us and our Iraqi allies more legitimacy, as well as help, and
legitimacy buys time and time is what this is going to take. "Other
nations are prepared to help, but they do not want to join what is
perceived as an American `occupation,' " Secretary General Kofi Annan
told me. "If the forces in Iraq are put under a U.N. mandate, they can
still be commanded by an American, like in Bosnia, but it will be
perceived differently and provide the legitimacy for others to join."

But this will not be a cure-all. Countries are not exactly lining up
to send their troops into harm's way in Iraq. So, the only way we get
a big troop increase quickly is for the Pentagon to reverse its awful
decision to disband (and unemploy) the Iraqi Army ó most of whom
refused to fight for Saddam in the first place. We should be going to
Iraqi colonels and offering to pay them to rebuild their units. They
can prune out the bad guys.

Also, the hard part of any new U.N. mandate will be what to do with
Mr. Bremer, who, up to now, has done a tough job well. No serious
allies are going to send forces to Iraq just to be under U.S. military
command. They will demand a voice in shaping the political future of
Iraq, which is right now the exclusive role of Mr. Bremer, reporting
to the Pentagon. If the U.N. is brought into the political rebuilding
of Iraq, a way must be found to tightly define its role so that we
don't have 15 chefs in the kitchen. That would make a mess. Maybe the
solution is to have the Iraqi Governing Council spell out to the U.N.
what political role it should play: where it should stop and start.

I don't know what Mr. Bush has been doing on his vacation, but I know
what the country has been doing: starting to worry. People are
connecting the dots ó the exploding deficit, the absence of allies in
Iraq, the soaring costs of the war and the mounting casualties. People
want to stop hearing about why winning in Iraq is so important and
start seeing a strategy for making it happen at a cost the country can

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company --

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