- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

Our Iraq policy today is at a crossroads. Indications are that much of the Washington establishment, anticipating the official release on Wednesday of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) recommendations, embraces the idea of an Iraq exit strategy — regardless of whether that fledgling democracy could survive on its own. The major obstacle to this ill-conceived idea is President Bush, who says emphatically that he has no intention of searching for a graceful way to abandon the Iraqis to Islamist fascism. So, the self-styled realists hope to get around that by using the recommendations of the ISG, headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, which are said to include a plan for a “major” withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq in the coming years despite considerable evidence that Iraqi security forces are not yet capable of taking on the terrorists and militias. Portions of a leaked classified memo issued by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld suggest that he too may have been moving in that general direction.

The Defense Department (which has long resisted large-scale efforts to bolster the U.S. military presence in Iraq) will attempt to put the best face on the Baker-Hamilton report. On Friday, Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who commands U.S. forces in northern Iraq, asserted that Mr. Bush and the ISG are not far apart when it comes to removing U.S. troops from Iraq. Indeed, leaks from the Iraq Study Group suggest that it rejected two of the worst ideas proposed by these modern-day McGovernites: an immediate troop pullout and a date-certain timeline for withdrawing the current 15 brigades in Iraq, a plan being advocated by Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who will likely chair the Senate Armed Services Committee in the new Congress.

Advocates of a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces say their case is strengthened by the Baker-Hamilton panel and a list of options contained in the classified memo issued Nov. 6 by Mr. Rumsfeld — two days before he announced his resignation. Mr. Rumsfeld is quoted as raising options for U.S. policy-makers that include withdrawing or pulling back the estimated 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq as a way to pressure the Iraqi government to take greater responsibility for its own security. Anther option suggested in Mr. Rumsfeld’s memo is to deny reconstruction assistance to violent areas of Iraq. Depending on how such a plan were implemented, it is not difficult to envision catastrophic unintended consequences — for example, if Iraqi civilians, already being preyed upon by insurgents or militias, are denied access to sewerage, schools or rebuilt power grids because U.S. and Iraqi security forces are unable to protect their region.

A few caveats are in order. Selective quotations from private memoranda can be misleading; sometimes the selectors leave out essential information that puts the document in context. Without the full text, we reserve judgment on substance,

But it is hardly reassuring to hear the president’s national security adviser suggesting yesterday that Mr. Bush is open to the idea of partial withdrawals of U.S. troops from Iraq — whether put forward by Mr. Rumsfeld or the Iraq Study Group. This is a bad idea. It is increasingly obvious that the Iraqi security forces, although significantly better than they were several years ago, are still incapable of defending their country, and are unlikely to be able to do so in the near future. The idea of browbeating the Iraqis to “do more” for their security or face a precipitous drawdown of U.S. combat forces in the near future is an exercise in self-delusion unworthy of a great country. The consequences of abandoning Iraq to the Islamic fascists, with their talent for inflicting vicious and imaginative pain in the name of Allah, are terrible to contemplate. It’s time to try something different: putting more troops into Iraq, for the purpose of protecting Iraqi civilians and decapitating the terrorist armies and militias.

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