George Will

WASHINGTON -- It is sad yet stirring to say. With a realist's melancholy sense of the human cost of things, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is saying it:

Part of the good news out of Iraq -- good news obscured by recent bad news, and sometimes mistaken for unalloyed bad news -- is that the deaths, including 62 Americans, caused by hostile action in Iraq since major combat operations ended include the deaths of almost 50 Iraqis. They died, Wolfowitz says, as exemplary pioneers of Iraq's progress up from tyranny, while working with coalition forces to secure public order and create civil society.

Wolfowitz says such casualties are plain, and stirring, evidence of -- and an unavoidable consequence of -- a desirable development; the slowly growing willingness and capacity of Iraqis to take responsibility for their nation's recovery. The capture last week of ``Chemical Ali,'' Saddam Hussein's cousin, suggests that U.S. commanders in Iraq are receiving intelligence from Iraqis willing to take risky initiatives for a better tomorrow.

All this is pertinent to the boiling debate in Washington -- Wolfowitz insists that it is much more a debate here than in Baghdad -- about whether the United States needs more troops in Iraq. He says the real need is for more Iraqi-staffed instruments of social control -- troops and police. Hence plans to send 28,000 Iraqis to Hungary for police training.

When some persons in or close to the administration argue that U.S. forces in Iraq are sufficient, they really seem to be arguing that existing forces should have been sufficient. They mean the forces there now would be sufficient, if ...

If in the run-up to war the CIA and State Department had been less opposed to the war, and less hostile to what they called ``externals,'' meaning Iraqi exiles. This hostility expressed a perverse premise: Those who remained in Iraq under Saddam were somehow morally superior to those who went into exile to work for liberation. Absent hostility toward ``externals,'' more Iraqis competent to work on public safety and civil administration would have arrived immediately behind coalition troops.

If the CIA had more accurately anticipated the continued opposition of Baathist remnants and had been less optimistic about the postwar performance of the Iraqi police, the problems faced now might have been substantially reduced.

If Saddam Hussein's army had stood and fought instead of melting away, more of the bitter-end resisters of the occupation would have been killed.

Yes, and as the old saying goes, ``If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candies and nuts, we'd all have a wonderful Christmas.'' The stark fact is that U.S. forces around the world are stretched thin by today's tempo of operations. What U.S. forces in Iraq need most are Iraqi forces to free U.S. forces to do what they are trained to do and do superbly.

Wolfowitz says that when U.S. soldiers guarding a hospital are killed by a hand grenade dropped from that building, one question is: Why are Americans being used to guard buildings? He has a robust -- even Rumsfeldean -- dislike of ``highly trained American soldiers doing stationary guard duty.'' The proper use of U.S. troops is, he says, not to guard pipelines but to use ``actionable intelligence and pursue killers.''

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the forces in Iraq, says, ``If he wants more troops, he can have more troops.'' Often when asked if he needs more, Abizaid has said, ``There's a lot of things that we need.'' But he also says: The number of ``boots per square inch'' is not the issue. The issue is intelligence that maximizes the efficacy of the troops there. Furthermore, Abizaid says, ``There's a downside where you increase your lines of communication, you increase ... the energy that you have to expend just to guard yourself.''

Still, the elemental problem is that decades of Baathist rule crippled Iraq's infrastructure -- Myers visited a Baghdad hospital unimproved in half a century -- and reduced Iraq's population to a dust of individuals, unpracticed in individual initiative and social cooperation.

Abizaid briskly defines the modest, nuts-and-bolts but potentially momentous development that must happen soon: ``We've got to do a lot more to bring an Iraqi face'' -- beyond the nearly 60,000 Iraqis already under arms in reconstituted security forces -- ``to the security establishments throughout Iraq very quickly.'' As Wolfowitz says, the basic U.S. strategy is to ``get us into the background before we become the issue.''


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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