- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

The nation’s top military officer made an impassioned plea before a Senate committee yesterday to back the troops fighting in Iraq or risk losing a crucial battle in the war on terrorism.

“It is a battle of wills,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The terrorists have said, and think, they are going to win. They are absolutely wrong about that. They will not win. They can’t win. We can’t let them win, and we won’t. We are going to win as long as we have the continuing will of the American people.”

His testimony continued an administration campaign to portray the Iraq conflict as a test that the coalition must pass in the overall war on al Qaeda and other terror groups. America cannot retreat from militants as it did in Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993, officials say.

“The costs are large, but it is a battle that we can win and is a battle that we must win because victory in this battle will be a major victory in the war on terrorism and a major defeat for the global terrorist networks,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of President Bush’s Iraq policy, told the committee.

Stung by criticism from both Republicans and Democrats that it botched post-Saddam Hussein war planning, the administration in recent weeks has settled on this strategy: admit unforeseeable developments, such as Saddam loyalists continuing to fight, but put the struggle in the context of September 11 and the bigger war.

“The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan and beyond would be a grave setback for international terrorism,” Mr. Bush said Sunday in a nationally televised speech. “The terrorists thrive on the support of tyrants and the resentments of oppressed peoples.”

To prove the terror connection, Mr. Wolfowitz held up the passports of foreign fighters who entered Iraq during the March-April war. One passport said, “volunteer for jihad.”

“If killing Americans leads to defeat and the restoration of the old regime, or any kind of new tyranny,” Mr. Wolfowitz said, “they would score an enormous strategic victory for terrorism and for forces of repression and intolerance, rage and despair, hatred and revenge.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, took offense at what he considered was the witness trying to wrap the debate in patriotism.

The issue is about securing Iraq, Mr. Kennedy said, and “not about the will, the patriotism, the determination of the troops. We know that and you know it. And the parents in my state know it as well. … More than seven young men have lost their lives. So we know about that.”

The hearing came two days after Mr. Bush asked Congress to approve $87 billion for the counterterrorism effort. Of that sum, $66 billion will fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and $21 billion will be for reconstruction in those two countries.

At one point, Mr. Wolfowitz read from a CIA summary of the war’s progress to date. As read by Mr. Wolfowitz, the report said: “Al Qaeda’s central leadership is reeling from the impact of the counterterrorist successes of the U.S. and our allies. The central leadership of al Qaeda is at growing risk of breaking apart as our blows against the group create a level of disarray and confusion throughout the organization that we have not seen since the collapse of the Taliban in late 2001.”

Mr. Wolfowitz faced tough questioning from committee Democrats for not telling Congress before the war how costly the invasion would prove.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s senior Democrat, told Mr. Wolfowitz, “you told Congress in March that ‘we are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.’ Talk about rosy scenarios.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he supported the liberation of Iraq, but he criticized planning for the post-Saddam era in which more than 60 American troops have been killed by a guerrilla force the Pentagon had failed to predict.

“The facts, as I see them … are clearly that we underestimated the size of the challenge that we would face after the military operations, unquote, were completed — the Ba’athists’ resistance, the former military people melting into the population,” Mr. McCain said.

The Washington Times last week reported on a secret report for the Joint Chiefs of Staff that said administration planning for the post-Saddam period was rushed, and that there was no time for “detailed planning.” The report, stamped “secret” and “final draft,” was prepared by the Joint Chiefs planning arm, the Joint Staff.

Mr. Levin pressed Gen. Myers to provide the committee with a copy, but got no commitment.

“That work … the classified briefing that was leaked to one of the newspapers here in town, reflected work that is not yet complete,” Gen. Myers said. “I’m sure when we finish that work, it’ll be up to the secretary of defense [Donald H. Rumsfeld] to make that available to the committee.”

When Mr. Levin asked whether the committee would get an “unvarnished” copy that reflected Joint Staff thinking without interference from Mr. Rumsfeld’s aides, Gen. Myers said, “It’s not a question of unvarnished. It’s a question of having the facts straight.”

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