The Magazine

It's Up To Bush

The Baker group and many of Bush's advisors have failed the president. It's up to the commander in chief now.

Dec 18, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 14 • By ROBERT KAGAN and WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Of the many disappointments of the Iraq Study Group's report, none is greater than the failure (or was it unwillingness?) to offer any remotely plausible suggestions for bringing security and stability to significant parts of Iraq. The Baker group instead chose to entertain the fantasy that political reconciliation in Iraq can take place in the absence of basic security for the average Iraqi. But basic security for Iraqis is the prerequisite for any successful political reconciliation, because if the United States cannot provide protection to Iraqis, they have little choice but to turn to those who can, namely their own sectarian militias. People talk about what a power broker Moktada al-Sadr has become. But American policy made Sadr what he is today. First we failed to take him out of the game early on, when he posed less of a menace. Then our failure to protect the Shia from insurgent and terrorist attacks by al Qaeda and the Sunni insurgency all but guaranteed that many would turn to Sadr's army for such protection.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has been calling for a substantial increase in American forces in Iraq since the summer of 2003. More troops could have helped dramatically then, as almost everyone, including Gates in his Senate testimony, now agrees. Almost everyone now agrees more troops could have made a big difference in 2004 and 2005, too. And a rapid and substantial increase in American forces in Iraq remains key to solving our predicament today.

But isn't it too late? And are there troops to send?

No, it's not too late. And yes, the troops exist. We have addressed both these questions in recent weeks. Our colleague, Frederick W. Kagan, has written extensively in these pages and elsewhere on why 50,000 additional troops are needed in Iraq, what exactly they would do, and where they would come from. But you don't have to take our word for it.

General Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff, who has traveled to Iraq frequently to meet commanders, has become an outspoken advocate for a substantial increase in American forces, especially in Baghdad. He has expressed disdain for those both inside and outside the Pentagon who claim that it is impossible to restore order there: "The notion that we can't provide protection for people in one of the capital cities of this world is just rubbish."

Keane is not alone. A few months ago, Army Maj. General Paul Eaton, who until his retirement had been in charge of building up the Iraqi Security Forces, told Senate Democrats what they didn't want to hear: that American force levels in Iraq were not nearly high enough, and that "we are, conservatively, 60,000 soldiers short." And the Wall Street Journal recently reported that "most military officers . . . seem to believe that a pullback of U.S. forces would only trigger more violence and make political compromise in the country impossible. These officers argue that 20,000 U.S. troops are needed to bring order to Baghdad. Another 10,000 U.S. soldiers would also be needed" as advisers to the Iraqi army. As the Journal reports, the officers "bristle at the idea that it is too hard or impossible."

Then there is retired general Anthony C. Zinni, staunch opponent of the Iraq war, close friend of Colin Powell, and former head of the Central Command under Bill Clinton. General Zinni rejects the entire logic of both the Baker report and current administration strategy. As he recently told the New York Times, "There is a premise that the Iraqis are not doing enough now, that there is a capability that they have not employed or used. I am not so sure they are capable of stopping sectarian violence." Instead of taking troops out of Iraq, Zinni, according to the Times, believes that "it would make more sense to consider deploying additional American forces over the next six months to 'regain momentum' as part of a broader effort to stabilize Iraq that would create more jobs, foster political reconciliation and develop more effective Iraqi security forces."

Beyond these generals and other military officers, an increasing number of political leaders support an increase in force levels in Iraq. First and foremost has been Sen. John McCain, who has long called for an increase in troops to Iraq and continues to believe it is the only workable answer. He is joined by Senate Armed Services Committee members Joseph Lieberman, John Cornyn, and Lindsey Graham. A new addition to this camp is the incoming House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Sylvestre Reyes. The man who will have about as big a role as anyone in reviewing the course of Iraq policy over the next two years has recently called for an increase in American forces in Iraq of 20,000 to 30,000 troops "for the specific purpose of making sure [Iraqi] militias are dismantled."