DEFENSE SECRETARY Donald Rumsfeld can claim, as much as any man, to be the architect of victory in Operation Iraqi Freedom. History might also tag him as the architect of defeat in the larger war for Iraq.

The secretary's mulish opposition to increasing the number of American soldiers in Iraq--and the narrow understanding of military "transformation" used to justify that stance--is a prime reason the Bush administration has had to go begging to the United Nations. In return for perhaps a couple of divisions' worth of Turkish, Indian, or Pakistani troops, the administration has suggested it is willing to subject the reconstruction of Iraq to a threat more lethal than Baathism and bin Ladenism combined: a French veto.

There is universal agreement that the current force in Iraq is too small. The commander of the coalition task force in Iraq, U.S. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, has admitted there were multiple challenges "looming." Among these, he told the New York Times on September 5, are the need to seal the country's borders, disarm large rebel groups, and prevent civil war--a real danger, as Iraq's long-dominant Sunni minority fights to retain its status. "Today, if I had to," said Sanchez, "I could move forces to tackle any one of those challenges, but we would pull forces from an existing mission."

U.S. Central Command says it needs six divisions, four of them American and the rest--anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 troops--contributed by the coalition. But the failure to line up more allies leaves a pretty significant shortfall and explains the dilemma Sanchez described.

The bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad made it clear that the rejectionists in Iraq have little regard for U.N. neutrality and will kill whoever they can when it gets hard to kill Americans. Under these conditions, there is little evidence that the rest of the world is prepared to support the U.S. mission in Iraq on the Bush administration's terms. Those terms "seem quite far from what for us is the primary objective," sniffed French president Jacques Chirac. Standing next to Chirac, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder allowed that, although "there is movement" in the administration's position, "it is not dynamic enough. It doesn't go far enough."

The difficulty of getting U.N. approval should be no surprise to the administration, which traveled this road unsuccessfully before the war. Still, the pretense of "internationalizing" the Iraq mission might be worth it if it could produce some tangible military reward--or puncture the posturing of the Democrats, who don't want to be seen cutting and running from Iraq, yet who aren't serious about staying the course either.

But neither of these outcomes is likely. Germany, for example, is simply incapable of making a very useful military contribution in Iraq. The Bundeswehr can neither project much force nor sustain it; it would be a liability both politically and tactically, most likely providing yet another "soft target" for terrorists. So would many other allied forces. Remember, in Somalia it was attacks on Pakistani U.N. troops that began the chain of events leading to the "Black Hawk Down" fiasco and American retreat.

India, for which the Bush administration had high hopes, and which has a serious army, is clearly not yet ready to commit itself to a real strategic partnership with the United States. That may come, but the Indians still have too many internal issues to sort out. So does Turkey--and the Turkish army is already in Iraq, in Kurdistan. Getting a larger Turkish force to police the Syrian border, as has been suggested, is certain to drive the Kurds to distraction. That would be especially foolish given the extraordinary discipline with which both Kurdish factions have behaved during the war and its aftermath. In sum, the problems associated with a larger allied contingent might well outweigh the advantages.

When and if the U.N. finally rebuffs the Americans, President Bush will have yet another chance to extricate himself from the dilemma created by his decision to promulgate the Bush Doctrine with Bill Clinton's military. It's hardly surprising that a force that was, as candidate Bush argued, stretched near its limits, is inadequate for the greater tasks the president has given it. Democrats will, of course, continue to complain about "unilateralism," but American public opinion will almost certainly blame the United Nations rather than the president.

Alas, Rumsfeld's rhetoric strongly suggests that the administration will again spurn the opportunity. In his recent Senate confirmation hearing, new Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker made headlines by allowing that he might need more soldiers on active duty. "Intuitively, I think we need more people," he said, cautiously allowing that he was going to "take a little risk" in stating the obvious. "I mean, it's just that simple." But Rummy's reaction was quick and firm: "Thus far, the analysis that's been done [on troop strength] indicates that we're fine." And the Pentagon needs to "be respectful of taxpayers' dollars."

The Bush administration has been set in its stance against a larger military from the start. After the 2000 election, a bipartisan delegation of pro-defense members of Congress trekked to Austin to appeal for increased spending and a larger force. To preserve his tax cut plan, the president rejected the appeal: The administration would not "throw money" at the Pentagon, declared White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Neither the attacks of September 11 nor even the decision to go to war in Iraq could shift Rumsfeld. Intending to "preserve options" for the president and avoid the impression that the United States was determined to go to war when it first went to the U.N., the defense secretary kept a tight rein on the flow of U.S. forces into the Gulf, especially on the kinds of support forces that would have demanded a larger mobilization of reservists. A permanent expansion--even a stopgap call-up of National Guard divisions--is still off the table, it seems.

Moreover, military "transformation" remains an article of faith. Its tenets hold that large land forces are a thing of the past, reflecting an industrial-age mentality in the information age. Professional soldiers, especially those inconsiderate enough to get married, have children, and pursue happiness in the American way, are annoyingly expensive. The transformationists tend to view war as little more than the application of firepower.

But securing the reconstruction of Iraq is a manpower-intensive mission, with little role for satellite-guided bombs or carrier battlegroups. The weapons that made it easy to capture Baghdad are far less useful for policing Baghdad. Both kinds of forces are necessary, but Rumsfeld and his acolytes seem interested only in the long-range, precision-strike kind.

Now, the kingdom may be lost for want of a nail. The goal of creating a stable environment in Iraq is a moving target. The longer decisive action is postponed, the harder it will be to achieve. Iraqis are losing faith in the ability of Americans to protect them--particularly the Shiite majority, who will determine the course of Iraqi democracy. An Iraqi army or police force will not be able to secure the borders or even control the traffic in Baghdad if they are sitting ducks, either for bullets and bombs or for bribes. The U.N. and other international organizations will remain reluctant to invest in the rebuilding of Iraq. Transforming our military for the future is a secondary concern when there's a war to be won today.

Tom Donnelly is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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