- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2003

President Bush’s upcoming trip to Europe will be his first overseas since the Iraq war. It comes at a moment of triumph for U.S. power. The world is enthralled at the speed and precision with which U.S. forces can move.

Even the U.N. Security Council, which had balked at a strike against Saddam Hussein’s regime, gave the United States all the authority it asked last week to run Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac will be one of the hosts for Mr. Bush’s state visit this week.

So, why doesn’t this victory feel so good any more?

A month after the statues fell in Baghdad, Mr. Bush is not enjoying the stability many thought would come with victory in the second Persian Gulf war. He is facing problems abroad that in many respects look more daunting than before the invasion.

In Iraq, civil disorder borders on chaos. In the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians are unable to free themselves from their death spiral. At home, another orange alert is imposed. And in the Western world, a terrible realization spreads that Islamic terrorism has become a permanent part of our lives and probably our children’s.

This is not the commanding position many thought Mr. Bush would be in after a short and decisive war. The thought was that an assertion of U.S. force would stabilize not just Iraq but the entire region, and lead to democratic reforms in feudal societies where terrorism has taken root.

Indeed, there was reason for such jaunty optimism. After the first U.S. war against Iraq in 1991, stability returned to the region swiftly. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process got a huge boost. The war left Saddam in power, but Mr. Bush’s father ordered a quick exit from the area. And the United States was the unipolar superpower.

This time, victory left the United States with 22 million people to govern and an advanced country to run.

It is a more hostile region than it was. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other one-time allies in the region were behind Mr. Bush’s father. But they finished this war in a bitter mood toward U.S. power. And while they are promising a crackdown on terrorist activities and a roundup of the usual suspects from Casablanca to Riyadh, there are doubts that many hearts are in it.

If Mr. Bush’s new team in Iraq can stop the hemorrhaging there quickly, it could turn things around not only for Iraq but for the region and at home, where a presidential election is approaching swiftly.

For now, this administration’s foreign policy and direction are coming under increasing scrutiny, not just from Democratic presidential candidates on the make but from Republican leaders with solid conservative credentials.

Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, supported the war, but last week he said “that impressive success is now at risk” because of looting, crime and religious strife that have taken over that country.

Sandy Berger, national security adviser in the Clinton administration, also backed the war and credits Mr. Bush with using power decisively and boldly.

But he said there was not adequate planning for an occupation and said neo-conservatives running the administration regard Iraq as nothing more than “a pro-American aircraft carrier in the Middle East.”

What planning there was for postwar Iraq needs was undersized and overoptimistic. Some officials thought that all but a handful of troops could be home in 90 days. Now a two-year occupation looks unrealistically short.

In the last decade, it took 60,000 troops to bring order to tiny Kosovo, Mr. Berger noted. Not many more than that are in Iraq, which has 10 times as many people.

Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, was roundly criticized for suggesting to Congress before the war began that several hundred thousand troops would be needed for the occupation. He was overruled.

Now, Gen. Shinseki’s number is looking right on the nose. In fact, one of his critics, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, acknowledged as much. He told the New York Times that if “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” were in Iraq, they could accomplish the mission and get out faster.

Situation normal. Mission still looking for plan. Victory still waiting for parade.

John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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