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.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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