A Heavier Iraq 'Footprint' ~ Editorial

The Wall Street Journal


A Heavier Iraq 'Footprint'

January 8, 2007; Page A16

President Bush is set to announce his new strategy for Iraq this week, and the early signs are that it will include both more American and Iraqi troops to improve security, especially in Baghdad. We think the American people will support the effort, as long as Mr. Bush treats this like the all-in proposition it deserves to be.

If the stakes in Iraq are as great as Mr. Bush says -- and we believe they are -- then he should commit whatever forces are needed to achieve success. The public's support for the Iraq campaign is waning, in major part because the casualties and expense have been producing no visible progress. Even with Democrats running Congress, Mr. Bush has a political window to pursue a more robust security strategy. The paradox is that the fastest way home from Iraq is a bolder commitment now.

On that score, it is appropriate that Mr. Bush is replacing his Iraq military team. Centcom Commander John Abizaid, who is retiring, can point to successful campaigns to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. His oft-derided "light footprint" strategy for securing Iraq has also been right for much of the country, with Kurdistan able to handle its own security and southern Iraq now transitioning to Iraqi control.

But General Abizaid and ground commander George Casey -- who is leaving for a Pentagon post -- never found the formula for the insurgent-troubled Sunni areas, and in recent months for Shiite death squads in Baghdad. Beginning in 2005, Mr. Bush began talking of a counterinsurgency strategy modeled on the successful "clear, hold and build" operation that drove insurgents from the northern city of Tal Afar.

However, it is now clear his two most important generals failed to muster the forces to make it work. The final straw was the failure of Operation Forward Together to secure Baghdad last year. Although many neighborhoods did improve during the "clear" phase, there were too few troops deployed for the "hold" process to work.

One rap on Mr. Bush as a war leader is that he is supposedly too willful and stubborn. But if anything, in Iraq it now appears he has been too deferential. He was telling the truth when he said his generals, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, told him they had enough troops to do the job. Especially as Army and Marine tours lengthened, General Casey seemed focused more on training Iraqis with an eye to drawing down U.S. forces, rather than on improving security. Whatever chance of success this approach had probably vanished with last year's terrorist attack on the Golden Shrine that ended Shiite forbearance.

In appointing David Petraeus, who will replace General Casey, Mr. Bush has chosen a general with impeccable credentials in this theater. He governed Mosul in 2003 with enlightened engagement, marred by a Baathist spy who somehow managed to become police chief. He also built, essentially from scratch, the current Iraqi Army starting in 2004. One of his chief virtues is that he is a good listener who works well with Iraqis, which is crucial to implementing any new plan. Along with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, who will be General Petraeus's chief deputy, the President will have generals who understand the priority of security.

The main objections to this new push in Iraq seem to be two: First, that military victory is no longer possible amid a "civil war" in Iraq; and second, that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is sectarian and thus will not compromise enough to achieve the political ends that must accompany improved security.

We aren't generals, but on the first point there are many serious people who believe success is still achievable in Iraq. They include retired four-star General Jack Keane and military historian Fred Kagan, who recently worked with some of the military's brightest officers to suggest a plan to secure Baghdad under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute. Among those officers is Colonel H.R. McMaster, the mastermind of the Tal Afar campaign. The President's two most important political allies on Iraq, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, also both believe more troops will make a difference.

As for Mr. Maliki, no one is suggesting that Iraqis be given a blank check. His political alliance with radical Shiite Moqtada al-Sadr is a problem and is one reason we advised the Administration against deposing Ibrahim al-Jaafari. But al-Sadr's influence has risen along with the sense that the Iraqi Army couldn't provide security and that the U.S. was headed out the door. One goal of any larger deployment would be precisely to bolster the forces of Shiite moderation against al-Sadr.

Despite its faults, the Maliki government has shown it is still willing to play by democratic rules. Saddam's hanging was handled ineptly, but the dictator received a fair trial. Mr. Maliki presented his own plan for Baghdad security to Mr. Bush on their recent meeting in Jordan, and he has pledged to protect against both Shiite and Sunni killings. We disagree with Bing West and Eliot Cohen nearby that Mr. Maliki should be presented with some kind of ultimatum to do our bidding or else we'll leave; he is far more likely to make these necessary decisions if he sees the U.S. as a reliable partner.

What is sure to radicalize the Shiites is an early U.S. departure. They would then have little choice but to call on Iran and Hezbollah and anyone else for the military aid to defeat the Sunni terrorists. The forces of Shiite democracy, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, would be swamped. Then there really could be a Shiite dictatorship in Iraq, along with ethnic cleansing on a scale unseen since the India-Pakistan diaspora.

For all of these reasons, we hope Mr. Bush also refrains from using the words "surge" or "temporary" to describe his plans this week. A better message is that he will do whatever it takes to reinforce the forces of moderation and democracy in Iraq to prevent a defeat that would empower American enemies in Iraq and in the war on terror. And his strategy is best framed as providing the forces necessary to protect the population that most military experts believe is the key to successful counterinsurgency.

The tragedy nearly four years after the fall of Saddam is that such a strategy has never been tried. The consequences of failure in Iraq are too great not to try it now, before it really is too late.

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