Donald Lambro

The gulf that exists in the Senate, for example, is exemplified by two wildly divergent positions. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming Armed Services Committee chairman, wants "to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months." Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona wants to send more troops there, warning any withdrawal would not only result in chaos in Iraq but throughout the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the terrorist and sectarian warfare worsens each week, and many in the Bush administration are losing confidence in Prime Minister al-Maliki's government. Bush wonders privately whether the Iraqis will ever be able to produce civilian leaders strong enough to overcome the terror insurgency.

It is in this near-hopeless environment that Baker is searching to bring outside adversaries into a solution, like Syria and Iran. He held a three-hour dinner meeting with Iran's U.N. ambassador that raised eyebrows among neoconservatives who support the war.

Clearly, there will be Democratic withdrawal resolutions next year, if not before. However, Levin told the Post that any troop measure "would not contain detailed benchmarks mandating how many troops should be withdrawn by specific dates."

It is unclear what Baker's panel will produce, but my instincts tell me that any plan to save Iraq must ultimately involve a feared Iraqi force that can more quickly take over the security of its country. That force must increase, so we can decrease.

Reconstruction and all other forms of noncombat, nonmilitary aid must give way to one overriding mission: recruiting and training a much larger and more lethal Iraqi army, including special forces, and a military-police force second to none. U.S. troops there must be turned into a training, air logistics and weapons-supply force as quickly as possible.

A critical strategy change: To prevent terrorists from killing more Iraqi recruits, training must be done in secret, remote locations elsewhere in the region. The job of the U.S. military after that will be to arm these beefed-up security forces to the teeth with the best and most lethal weaponry we can give them to fight for their country for as long as it takes.

This is a page out of President Ronald Reagan's playbook when he drove the Evil Empire out of Afghanistan and fought the Marxist guerrillas in now-democratic Nicaragua -- without the use of U.S. troops.

A plan that turns the U.S. military in Iraq into an enlarged recruiting and training force is a plan that a divided Congress can support, as well as the Iraqis, because it will hasten the day when they'll be doing all the fighting.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.