Austin Bay

It isn't irony, it's history, our immediate history, where what we choose to do -- or not do -- will have extraordinary effects on the course of this challenging century.

Still, the week of the 65th anniversary of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor is a historically profound moment to consider what the military calls "courses of action" in Iraq and the Global War on Terror. It has been a week of "strategic" leaks. The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group dropped hints, then The New York Times published Donald Rumsfeld's classified "goodbye memo" containing Iraq war options. On Dec. 4, The Wall Street Journal discussed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace's "study group," which is considering other alternatives.

In an interview that appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, John McCain supplied a pithy reminder for all engaged in the debate: " in war, my dear friends, there is no such thing as compromise; you either win or you lose."

The Pace group recommends more military forces in Iraq (focused on Baghdad). It may view Iraq as a peacekeeping problem. The Journal wrote that Pace's group sees a U.S. pullback as triggering "more violence" and making "political compromise impossible."

Rumsfeld's memo is a hodgepodge of ideas at least two years old. I found three exceptions. He suggests embedding Iraqi troops in U.S. units to train them (a Korean-like Katusa program). He suggests the United States might provide security only in provinces that request U.S. help and adds an "accelerated 2007 drawdown" option -- which looks like a drawdown and re-basing proposal considered for the 2009 time-frame.

The Baker-Hamilton report will be available this week. Its leaks suggest a "diplomacy-led" option, with a publicly broader inclusion of Syria and Iran. Publicly is an important word, because "back channels" have been steadily engaged.

All three studies lay the groundwork for establishing a bipartisan U.S. commitment to finishing the job in Iraq and -- by implication -- this century's long war for modernity. Democrats now have leadership stake in determining U.S. policy, and the process of policy reconsideration gives them cover for slipping the critic's role and assuming leadership responsibility.

The three "strategic leaks" consider how "best to fight" the war. Precious time, lives and treasure will be wasted if debate sidetracks on "when to fight." Like Dec. 7, 1941, we've got a war, like it or not.

Arguably, after Khomeinist Iranians sacked the U.S. Embassy in 1979, the United States tried to delay a war on Middle Eastern tyranny and terror. Sept. 11 changed that.

The radical Sunni war on the West (as expressed by al-Qaida's precedents) has roots in the 1940s. (Read Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower," which I will review in a couple of weeks).

Our enemies have long time lines. They see the United States through the templates of Vietnam and Somalia (bug-outs), not the template of sticking out the Cold War.

But our "course of action" must account for others' capabilities as well as our expectations. In August 2004, I had a conversation in Baghdad with a U.S. Army officer -- an Arabist with a diplomatic background. He was tasked with helping Iraqis establish an operations center. I asked how that project was going. "They're doing the best they (the Iraqis) can," he replied, thoughtfully. "(They'll be running it) in their own way, not like us." Translation: What they can achieve is not on our schedule.

President Bush insists on achieving this strategic goal: a self-sustaining, free Iraq that is an ally in the War on Terror. That is an achievable goal.

Columnist Michael Barone likens Bush's determination to that of Harry Truman confronting the Korean War or Winston Churchill after Dunkirk. These are dramatic analogies, but our situation is not nearly as desperate. We've had big successes. Iran is surrounded, Syria hemmed, al-Qaida shot to shreds. Given the ideological and political dimensions, a more apt analogy is Ronald Reagan's 1983 "Euromissile" struggle.

The Soviet Union gambled it could to "decouple" Europe from the U.S. nuclear umbrella; it waged a war of perception in the United States and Western Europe. America was the aggressor. Reagan was evil, a Hitler, a warmonger. Reagan focused on the strategic goal of winning the Cold War and deployed U.S. missiles to counter the Soviet missiles. The Kremlin broke negotiations in a huff, but within two years returned to serious disarmament talks. The road to 11-9 (Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall cracked) is history.


Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
 
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