- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

By every reasonable measure, President Bush’s surge strategy has been a success. That is not to say we can now relax. While we have turned an important corner, significant work remains to be done. Iran continues to provide equipment, improvised explosive devices and training to various militia groups. While al Qaeda activities have been significantly reduced, they still can create problems.

No matter who wins the November presidential election, one key issue to be addressed is Iraq. It is immaterial how we got into Iraq. What’s important is how we leave and when. The worst scenario would be a precipitous withdrawal as we have done in the past. Here, I believe we need to take some lessons from Vietnam and Lebanon. The late Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap who was the leader of the North Vietnam military stated in his memoirs: “What we still don’t understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender. It was the same at the battles of Tet. You defeated us. We knew it, and we thought you knew it. But we were elated to notice your media were definitely helping us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the battlefields. We were ready to surrender. You had won.”

In Lebanon, after we failed to respond to the U.S. Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 of our finest military personnel and then withdrew our Marines, we only emboldened the terrorists. This lack of action and withdrawal became the rallying point for Osama bin Laden who said when we are faced with massive casualties we will cut and run. While we know that is not so, it is the perception of many.

In the case of Iraq, let’s not snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. It must be remembered that when we defeated Saddam Hussein we removed Iran’s greatest nemesis to their expansion goals in the region. The United States has now inherited that role certainly until the Iraqi military has achieved the wherewithal to assume that responsibility. This will take a number of years.

Further, to maintain a level of regional stability while raising the level of deterrence against Iran, we must continue to maintain forces in Iraq and in the region. The future posture level of troop commitments in Iraq and stationing in the region will be determined by events on the ground. Our naval forces along with our allies will be required to ensure unrestricted access and freedom of the seas plus being a visible factor in the deterrence equation.

Notwithstanding the success of the troop surge, it must be recognized that a key factor in that strategy has been the financial support of the tribal leaders in the Baghdad and other areas. As we learned in the early days of our fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, we must continue to support the tribal leaders during and after a drawdown of troops, or chaos will again result. Other local tribal concerns will also have to be addressed as some of these go back hundreds of years and cannot be solved just with more money.

For the long term, we need to consider creating a new security arrangement for the region that would involve formation of an alliance of regional countries similar to the old “Central Treaty Organization (CENTO).” CENTO was established in 1955, originally known as the Baghdad Pact, to prevent Soviet expansion into the region.

CENTO’s original members were Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. After Iraq’s anti-Soviet monarchy was overthrown in 1959, Iraq withdrew. The United States then became an associate member. After the shah of Iran was overthrown, Iran withdrew from the organization in 1979 and it was later dissolved.

The objectives of any new alliance would be to enhance regional stability, keep the sea lines of communication open, promote economic development, promote freedom and democratic principles plus respect for each member’s sovereignty.

The United States should take the lead in promoting such an alliance that would be open to all regional countries and our allies. A small planning staff could be established as an adjunct to the U.S. 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain.

James Lyons, U.S. Navy retired admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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