- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Last week, with ringing rhetoric, President Bush calledforbringing democracy and freedom to the greater Middle East. Perhaps his rhetoric will become deed. Iraq is the first acid test. But democratizing the Middle East extends beyond Iraq. Ultimately, the United States must confront radical Islam. This means resolving all manner of problems such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that have, so far, proven intractable. On all counts, there are reasons to worry. Let’s start with Iraq.

In Iraq, the administration’s strategic priority is to make that country secure,whileturning thoseresponsibilities over to Iraqis as soon as possible.Responsible critics — such as Sen. John McCain — who calls for more American forces and Sen. Joseph Biden, who calls for a greater NATO role — disagree. And beyond the strategic debate, there are organizational issues.

Nearly three years ago, the Commission on National Security Strategy/21st Century concludedthattheU.S. government’s organization for national security, including both the executive and legislative branches, was “dysfunctional.” A similar conclusion could apply to how the United States is organized for Iraq today.

Clearly, the civilian-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is responsible for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. Central Command, with headquarters in Tampa, Fla., not Baghdad, has the military responsibility for safety, security and ending the insurgency. The Secretary of defense, of course, is in charge of both organizations. And the National Security Council (NSC) has been given some sort of oversight and coordinating role. But who is calling the shots for the administration? Who is in charge of executing and coordinating the strategy? And who is providingoversightfor seemingly independent operations of the provisional authority, CentCom, the Pentagon and the NSC?

Knowledgeable senior military officers worry that because the provisional authority is largely restricted to the protected “green zone,” it is not current on what is going on outside its sheltered domain and hence, cannot takeeffectiveaction. Knowledgeable civilians worry about understandable but overly aggressiveArmy counterinsurgency operations alienating more friendly Iraqis than capturing or killing insurgents. Others cite the relationships between CPA and CentCom as strained. The executive branch is not alone in this.

Congress has not stood very tall either. The Senate’s voice vote last Monday approving the president’s $87 billion budget request for Iraq was an interesting political gesture. It also signaled an abdication as a co-equal branch of government.

Because the administration believes that Iraq is a central battleground in the global war on terror, for better or worse, there is an unbreakable linkage with radical Islam. Hence, success of this democratic quest cannot be detached from the reactions of the Muslim world, a view not fully shared by this administration. Those reactions will be defined by events in Iraq, the war on terror, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Middle East as, well as at home.

The population of roughly 1.3 billion Muslims is enormously diverse in composition and location. The great majority is peace-abiding and eschews violence. Even if 99.9 percent of all Muslims fit this description, the remaining one-tenth of 1 percent who might hold extremist views is still a very large number — 1.3 million, about the size of the U.S. military.

Neither this vast peaceful majority nor the lesser radical elements are well-organized or a coherent group. But given what 19 extremists armed only with box cutters perpetrated on September 11, preventing, or at least not provoking, new converts to radical Islam is crucial. Actions the United States takes regarding Islam, at abroad and at home, can have stunning effect.

The nexus between democratizing Iraq and containing radical Islam brings home another danger. Unlike Vietnam where the threat of Southeast Asian states falling like “dominoes” proved greatly exaggerated, today, a domino effect is real. The two prime dominoes are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. If America does not succeed in Iraq, you can bet that radicals and extremists will turn their sights on Riyadh and Islamabad. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and Saudi oil money are powerful inducements and awesome tools in the wrong hands.

The White House must take a hard look at its strategy. Denying all criticism is not an option. The organization for Iraq must be divested of any “dysfunctionality” that once concerned the national strategy commissioners. Over time, there must be a plan for defanging Islamic radicalism beyond waging the global war on terror. That entails dealing effectively and courageously with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, friendly as well as hostile autocratic states in the region and the Indo-Pakistani standoff.

Unless or until the administration takes strong remedial action in Iraq, a long, “hard slog” will be made even harder. It is within our ken to succeed in Iraq even if democracy does not fully bloom. It is also within our grasp to fail. The latter cannot be permitted to happen.

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