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WSJ on Iraq

10:51 AM, Jan 8, 2007 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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From today's editorial:

...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….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….

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….

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.