Three choices for Iraq

Escalating the war in Iraq is a national discussion that should be had, and quickly. Forgive the clich

Darren Bernard

Three schools of thought are forming on how to fix Iraq. The first is the Democrat-endorsed “phased withdrawal.” The second is the Bush administration’s myopic “change tactics, not strategy.” The third is to flood the country with troops, impose virtual martial law, close the borders to foreign terrorists, dismantle the Shiite militias, retrain the corrupted Iraqi security forces and crush the Baathist insurgency.

I like the third idea, with conditions.

At the close of an especially bloody October, Americans should say a prayer this weekend for some kind of drastic (miraculous) changes in thinking on Iraq. The U.S. political season may be to blame for the strangely mixed signals on Iraq that came from administration officials for the last few weeks, and for the frustration now being voiced by Iraqi leaders. It may also be a sign that real change is in the offing.

For the record, when it comes to Iraq’s future, next week’s elections are utterly immaterial. Republicans don’t have the strength or will to continue backing current strategy; Democrats won’t get the votes to pink slip war funding. This will still be the White House’s war. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s famous “Pottery Barn Rule” has come full circle – that is, the executive broke Iraq, which means the executive bought it.

Not to oversimplify things, the media apoplexy over Iraq of late hardly reflects the real situation. Iraqi forces are in fact gradually taking over security operations across the nation. Iraq’s military and police units passed a major test last week after independently re-securing portions of the large southern city Amara, which had been briefly overrun by militiamen. Meanwhile, polls show Iraqis are still hopeful for peace and unity, and a majority still think removing Saddam from power was worth it.

Even so, the raging sectarian violence has undercut reconstruction efforts and faith in the central government. As the violence has shifted from Iraqi-on-U.S. to Iraqi-on-Iraqi, so has the mistrust and anger. There are now so many splintered militias (Moqtada al-Sadr’s notorious Madhi Army among them) and unknown insurgent groups that tracking and explaining what’s happening is impossible. At worst, it is heralding something like a Somalia.

Which brings me back to our three choices. If Democrats get their way, Iraq will become a Somalia – or worse, a Rwanda – and the United States will face a Middle East unimaginably violent and unstable. The humanitarian, economic and geopolitical implications are as disturbing as they are endless. Anyone who believes a pullout is a solution, however “phased” or “elapsed,” has a serious misunderstanding of the magnitude of the cause.

The second choice – current strategy – is not a solution, either. There is purpose in fighting for a democratic, stable Iraq, but it just isn’t happening. Each day, the death squads and militias become more autonomous and more violent. It is a political impossibility to support spilling American blood just to babysit street warfare half a world away.

The third choice means escalation, but it may very well be the only acceptable way out. A soldier stationed in Iraq suggested this to the Wall Street Journal last week: “Reassert direct administration, put 400,000 to 500,000 American troops on the ground, disband most of the current Iraqi police, and retrain and reindoctrinate the Iraqi army until it becomes a military that’s fighting for a nation, not simply some sect or faction. Reassure the Iraqi people that we’re going to provide them security and then follow through. Disarm the nation: Sunnis, Shias, militia groups, everyone. Issue national ID cards to everyone and control the movement of the population.”

It sounds drastic – even severe. But drastic and severe may be exactly what we need right now. The borders to Iran and Syria must be closed off to the weapons and terrorists pouring into the country. Baghdad and other hotspots must be secured for reconstruction efforts to be at all fruitful. Iraqis are begging for security, and they know that as little as they like having U.S. troops around, Americans are loyal only to the cause.

There are plenty of complications to consider with such a change in strategy. Getting sufficient manpower is one issue, and selling Iraqi officials and American voters on the idea would be no small chore, either. But this is a national discussion that should be had, and quickly. Forgive the cliché, but time is running out.

Darren Bernard welcomes comments at [email protected]