Thursday, September 4, 2003

A Milestone

The first Vietnam/Iraq analogy that actually sounds right:

Mr. Bush would be much further along in rebuilding Iraq had he taken the advice of his Pentagon advisers and recruited more Iraqi allies well before the war. Now in a scramble to catch up, the U.S. is sending Iraqis for military training to the same place in Hungary that we sent the Free Iraqi Forces that we disbanded after the war...The strange hostility to enlisting Iraqis exists on both the left and right. On the left, it seems rooted in a belief that Arabs will never be able to govern themselves; they need the U.N. to midwife the next strongman to keep all of the religious crazies in line.

Among some on the right, meanwhile, the preference is to send more American troops to Iraq. This seems intended to prove a long-time point that the U.S. needs a larger standing Army and a bigger Defense budget. But this was also the Westmoreland strategy during Vietnam, the illusion that just another 100,000 Yanks on the ground can pacify the country. Perhaps they'll also call for 'search and destroy' missions. A million Marines won't be enough if the Iraqi people aren't on our side.

The guerrilla war the U.S. is now fighting in Iraq is winnable, notwithstanding the current media pessimism. The terrorists have to be denied foreign aid and sanctuary. Better intelligence, which can only come from Iraqis, will be needed to ferret out the Baathists and jihadis. Above all, Iraqis themselves will have to begin taking responsibility for keeping the power on and maintaining order--in short, for governing themselves.

The paradox is that this will all be easier the more determined America is to stay as long as it takes to succeed. Mr. Bush has made that pledge many times, most recently last week. But the world also watches America's political debates and it remembers Saigon, Mogadishu and Beirut. We'd like to hear the President explain that his new U.N. strategy is about strengthening America's commitment to victory in Iraq, not the first step toward walking away.

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