Is Iraq in a civil war? Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the country is on the verge. President Bush won't go that far but admits the escalating sectarian violence must be contained. He is meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki this week and says he intends to pose the question, "What is your strategy in dealing with sectarian violence?" But with blood literally running through the streets of Baghdad as attacks on Iraqis increased to their highest point since the beginning of the war, it's a little late to be asking that question.
Whether the situation in Iraq can be described as civil war or anarchy is irrelevant. The situation is out of control. And the immediate responsibility of the United States must be to restore order and provide at least a minimum of security to the Iraqi people. Yet, the administration balks at doing the one thing that might achieve that goal: sending in sufficient American troops to bring the violence under control.
In a briefing with columnists this week, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, described 2007 as the "key transition year," when Iraqi forces will come under full Iraqi command, with an end force strength of some 355,000 trained troops, and when Iraqi forces will control security for all 18 provinces. But he did not -- he could not -- promise that this transfer of responsibility will end the bloodshed in Iraq.
When asked whether Baghdad could be stabilized with additional troops, Maj. Gen. Caldwell said that more forces would have a "short-term effect," but could not maintain security over time. It is the answer the administration routinely gives: Only Iraqi forces can provide long-term security for their own nation.
Who can argue with that? But it is also beside the point. There will be no long-term for Iraq as we know it unless the short-term situation dramatically improves. And we have a moral duty to do everything in our power to see to it that it does.
The administration seems paralyzed, hoping for some deus ex machina to rescue it from ignominy in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan advisory group headed up by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, has been meeting behind closed doors at the White House this week before making its recommendations to the president for changes in U.S. strategy.
The New York Times reported that early drafts of the group's recommendations emphasize aggressive regional diplomacy. And the vice president's visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday suggests the administration is ready to pursue that option.
But the Saudis, whose Royal Family members have funded terrorist organizations for decades and promoted the radical brand of Islam that inspires fanatics worldwide to engage in jihad, are part of the problem, not the solution. Nor can Syria and Iran be trusted, since each is allied with separate factions involved in the current violence.
If the United States abrogates its responsibility to restore order to Iraq, we can expect more violence in the region, not less. We will have proved ourselves the paper tiger that our enemies have always accused us of being.
If we cannot win a war in a country the size of California against a ragtag group of criminals and religious zealots, how can we claim to be a superpower? Even our defeat in Vietnam pales in comparison. But it is not just the damage to U.S. influence and prestige that is at issue. It is our claim to moral leadership in the world as well.
The United States chose to invade Iraq, as it turns out, on the basis of faulty intelligence. Having done so, we have a moral duty to leave the country no worse off than we found it. We cannot leave Iraq until Iraqis can go about their daily lives without fear that they will be blown up, abducted, beheaded or terrorized in their homes, at work and at prayer. Until we solve the short-term crisis, there will be no long-term solution.