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Kerry and the Other "F"-word

The Democratic candidate doesn't want to talk about how to deal with Falluja.

3:00 PM, Sep 23, 2004 • By FRED BARNES
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JOHN KERRY'S NEW POLICY on Iraq is like a doughnut. It has a big hole in the middle. The Kerry four-point plan calls for recruiting more allies to help in Iraq, accelerating the training of Iraqi soldiers, pushing ahead on reconstruction, and guaranteeing a national election by next January. All that's fine. But none of it can happen unless the terrorists who've made the Iraqi city of Falluja their sanctuary and staging point for attacks and bombings are defeated. Kerry has no plan for dealing with the terrorists. Falluja is the hole in Kerry's doughnut.

In fact, the f-word--Falluja--was mentioned only once in Kerry's speech Monday outlining his Iraq strategy. He identified the city as a breeding ground "for terrorists who are free to plot and launch attacks against our soldiers." Indeed, it is exactly that. But then he went on to lay out his new plan without offering a scheme for subduing Falluja. He simply assumed, tacitly, that the single biggest problem in Iraq had been solved. Otherwise, his proposal for "high visibility, quick impact" reconstruction projects, for example, makes no sense. It couldn't happen unless Falluja had been vanquished. Of course, it's not just Falluja that's a problem now. A few other cities in the Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad are dominated by terrorists, too. Kerry has no plan for overcoming them either.

Falluja has been the greatest impediment to progress in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was toppled in April 2003. American Marines had nearly conquered the city last April when they were called off. There were concerns among Iraqi political leaders and American officials that too many civilians were being killed. The decision was bucked to the Bush administration in Washington, which decided to call for a halt. Instead, a brigade of former Iraqi soldiers was sent into Falluja in hopes it would persuade the terrorists to hand over their weapons. That tactic failed and the brigade was later disbanded.

There are two basic strategies for conquering Falluja and capturing or killing the terrorists. The one being followed by the U.S. military today is to squeeze the city gradually, reducing the area controlled by the terrorists. By the end of the year, American forces are expected to stage a final effort to seize the city. The other strategy, favored by Sen. John McCain, is to take Falluja by attacking it forcefully, the sooner the better. This might be bloody, but, according to that strategy, the price would be worth paying in the long run.

It's clear that a national election couldn't be conducted in all of Iraq if the terrorists centered in Falluja are still free to operate. Nor would allies who've balked at helping in Iraq be inclined to send troops or other personnel as long as terrorism is rampant. And reconstruction projects, now delayed or halted entirely because of terrorism, couldn't move ahead either. The name of the game in Iraq now is: Defeat the terrorists.

Both the Bush and McCain strategies are risky and would probably produce many American and Iraqi casualties. Under the Kerry plan, however, there would be no casualties, since he doesn't broach the overriding Falluja problem. This oversight could have been erased the day after Kerry's big Iraq speech when he held his first press conference in weeks. But, again, Kerry offered no strategy for seizing Falluja and the other troublesome towns. He left the hole in the doughnut.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.