The word Iraq seems to derange the minds of almost all who contemplate it. Like other famous vexations in history -- Carthage for the Romans, Germany for the French, the Irish for the English (and, of course, the English for the Irish) -- Iraq induces in the current American mind the full range of mentalities except reason.
Come September, not only Gen. David Petraeus, but also many other designated experts will deliver their report cards on Iraqi progress -- or lack of it. Now, two months out, serious huffing and puffing is already building up inside Washington. An independent commission created by Congress but appointed by the Pentagon, led by war critic retired Gen. James Jones will report back on the question of whether Iraq security forces are ready to take over more responsibilities.
Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will file another report. A number of American intelligence agencies are also reported to be preparing to file assessments in September of the current Iraqi government's capability to resolve the political logjams between Sunni, Shia, Kurds and tribal leaders.
According to the New York Times (for whatever that is worth these days), both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, have as one of their central goals "to turn down the heat in Iraq, transforming the war from the central national security crisis confronting the nation to an important but manageable long-term foreign policy and military issue." While that might be a worthy goal, it is, of course, a political impossibility between now and the presidential election.
Another senior administration official is quoted saying, "the issue now is when do we start withdrawing troops and at what pace." It is generally asserted by military experts that starting next spring the military will not have sufficient troops to maintain the surge level. Thus, one brigade a month will have to be withdrawn, or else already onerous tours of duty will have to be further extended.
From all this and more, let me save you the bother of waiting for the September deluge of reports from the four corners of our government. Come September it will be the received wisdom of Washington that: (1) the Maliki government is hopelessly incapable of ever effecting the necessary political compromises to make Iraq a functioning government, (2) we cannot maintain our current troop strength in Iraq with the current size of our military, and (3) the Iraqi military will not soon be ready to replace our forces in combat or even heavy police duties.
I don't disagree with those conclusions of fact. But I suspect that I will strongly dissent from the policy conclusions that most of Washington will draw from them. Most of Washington will conclude that therefore we need to figure a way to weasel out of Iraq. That is fine, if losing in Iraq doesn't matter much. But if losing in Iraq does matter a lot, then it is mad to use a diagnosis of our current shortcomings as a death sentence, rather than as a guide to better treatment methods. (Doctor: "You have a high fever and infection. You're going to die." Patient: How about giving me some penicillin?" Doctor: "I don't have any." Patient: "Could you get some?" Doctor: "It would be quite a bother." Patient: "Oh, in that case you are right to let me die.")
As I read the facts, we don't have enough troops available and the Iraqi government isn't up to the job. Therefore, reason would suggest that if we are to attain victory (or success or whatever other euphemism people prefer these days for the vulgar, antiquated, arrogant, jingoistic, unrealistic, impolite, cowboy-like word "victory"), we need to replace the Iraqi government and as quickly as possible start increasing the size of our Army and Marines.
Regarding the latter point, as editorial page editor of the Washington Times I have overseen the publishing in the last five months of almost two dozen editorials on the feasibility and necessity of increasing Army and Marine troops levels (see our website WashingtonTimes.com for those collected editorials).
As to the first point, as almost everyone agrees -- we can't finally succeed in Iraq without an indigenous Iraqi government capable of effective government -- why don't we replace the government. While democracy is all good and well -- we entered Iraq to protect our own national security interests. If we could give them democracy, too, all the better. But first, we have to look out for our (and the world's) interests.
I continue to believe that defeat in Iraq will have shocking consequences. Even most war critics believe that -- they just don't want to think about it.
Just as Abe Lincoln kept hiring and firing generals until he found a Gen. Grant, who could fight and win, President Bush needs to hire and fire Iraqi leaders until he finds a strong man who can get the job done.
I pray that President Bush has not been so moved by his own "democratic" rhetoric that he has blinded himself to the ruthless, practical demands of the moment.