Debra J. Saunders

Then, there is this controversial proposal: "If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security and governance, the United States should reduce its political, military or economic support."

Maybe that approach would work. Or maybe the promise to withdraw money and U.S. troops sends a dangerous signal to Iraqi terrorists. To wit: If they kill enough Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops, America will withdraw U.S. troops sooner. Besides, the 2008 elections present a timetable of sorts. If the Iraqi government fails to improve, the 2006 elections suggest, Americans will elect a president who promises complete and immediate withdrawal.

Some of the more modest recommendations make more sense. Recommendation 73, for example, notes that the U.S. embassy in Iraq employs 1,000 people, but only 33 Arabic speakers, six of them fluent. President Bush should find that situation unacceptable. The ISG also calls for increasing U.S. economic assistance to Iraq to $5 billion per year, and noted that Americans can't expect the Iraqi army to perform on an annual $3 billion appropriation -- or less than what the U.S. spends in Iraq every two weeks. The best summation of the situation in Iraq came from an unnamed U.S. official who told the study group: "Our leaving would make it worse. ... The current approach without modification will not make it better."

Bush and his new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, now must find a way to make it better.

Debra J. Saunders

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