- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Washington has earned a new sobriquet — Sunni Triangle West. The mashing of molars and sharpening of knives is audible in the nation’s capital as generals and civilian war hawks line up for the blame game. Contrary to Bush administration orders, the Rubicon is already well traversed.

From “failure is not an option” to “failure is now the only option” is the new message one hears in off-the-record think tank discussions with retired generals and former ranking Pentagon and CIA officials. The POW fiasco, with its global radioactive fallout, has left Operation Iraqi Freedom in intensive care.

One general reminded his audience of what one of his colleagues said to a North Vietnamese general at the 1972 Paris peace talks. “But you haven’t won a single battle,” said the American. “That’s correct,” the Vietnamese officer acknowledged, “but it’s also irrelevant.” The same could be said about the insurgents in Iraq. They cannot hope to win a single battle with U.S. forces. But they made sure that if U.S. Marines tried to conquer Fallujah, the ensuing bloodbath would have been a major victory for Islamist extremists.

Each night, Marines could hear Muslim imams on the loudspeakers at the top of mosque minarets urging their flocks to kill Americans. The Marines barely escaped “a perfect storm situation,” said one civilian who was with them for almost a month. He was in awe as he shared the lives “of these young, tough, disciplined Marines who had confidence in themselves, not the mission.”

“There was no coherent Fallujah game plan at the highest level,” he explained. “While I was there, the Marine general negotiated with no less than seven delegations.” Each kept jerking the general’s chain and the ultimate solution was to give the poachers the game park.

Various formulations are being uttered to soften the blow of failure in Iraq. The new geopolitical jargon for the Iraqi exit ramps ranges from “suboptimal solutions” to “manageable strategic retreat.” These are the alternatives to “disorderly strategic retreat” as seen by knowledgeable observers just back from the Iraqi theater. “We broke it, but we can no longer fix it,” said one of them.

The heroes of 2003 are already the villains of 2004. The Pentagon’s glamour “hunk” of last year’s magazine cover stories has become the voodoo doll his State Department and CIA detractors like to stick pins in. “Rummy” Rumsfeld has teed off some powerful constituencies in the last three years.

First it was his own generals who were ignored as defense transformation plans began to take shape. Then came the Armed Services Committees of both houses of Congress. For months they complained about being left out of the loop as Mr. Rumsfeld kept them guessing. More recently, Colin Powell’s undiplomatic diplomats and George Tenet’s spooks have switched from pinpricks to heavy artillery.

The first CIA salvo appeared to be the latest leak to The New Yorker magazine’s Seymour Hersh: Mr. Rumsfeld authorized exclusion from the Geneva Conventions for a special unit operating in Afghanistan that later transferred to Iraq. Garbage, sniffed a Pentagon spokesman.

The barrage has reduced to silence some of the neocon architects of the war. On May 7, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith was briefing a group of young political science graduates when one of them asked him, “How would you define success in Iraq?” Silence followed as Mr. Feith shifted from foot to foot. He finally looked at his watch and said, “Well, that was the last question.” He then left without answering it. Even Mr. Feith’s aides were perplexed.

This week, Mr. Feith was scheduled to address the Defense Policy Board — the nation’s preeminent strategic experts — on “Global Posture.” The only other item on the two-day agenda was defense modernization. No mention of Iraq. One of the DPB members conveyed his “astonishment” at the omission. On the agenda or not, Iraq was Topic A, B and C.

One former low-intensity warfare specialist at the Pentagon described his visit to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad’s Green Zone as “Alice in Wonderland.” “It’s hard to get out of it, let alone get into it,” he told an audience of strategic experts. “Some of them have never met an Iraqi outside the Green Zone and yet they draft proclamations they have no way of implementing. CPA is part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

Some of the other observations from recent visitors to Iraq who have had experience in previous conflicts in the developing world:

• We have outworn our welcome and “we now find ourselves in a hell of a pickle.”

• If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re likely to wind up where you don’t want to be. Forget about installing a liberal democracy in Baghdad. Such constructs need a lot of fertilizer to take root. We don’t have the time.

• There is no way to put a good face on the strategic withdrawal. Civilian heads must roll; generals are tired of taking the fall.

• The transition government that takes over July 1 must be inclusive, “even with people who don’t like us. It can’t be a little bit sovereign. Colin Powell said we would leave if asked to by a sovereign Iraqi government. That is the only posture that will restore U.S. credibility.”

• The civilian contractors hired to train a new Iraqi army cost the U.S. taxpayer a lot of money and got it all wrong. The target of 27 battalions meant quantity, not quality. They were designed as an external protection force, unable to deal with urban warfare.

• There is an urgent need for a national force capable of protecting the core functions of government. The immediate need is for five or six Iraqi battalions to protect the new government, which will be challenged almost immediately after July 1.

• There are no genuine Iraqi leaders on the horizon.

• A strongman is needed, one that will understand that the Shi’ites, for the first time in hundreds of years, have a chance to escape the role of low man on the totem pole.

• The Swiss cantonal system for Iraq’s three or more component parts is probably the best bet for a new constitution. The alternative could be Lebanon — and civil war.

The U.S. has given top priority to a new U.N. resolution that would confer legitimacy on a U.S. military presence in Iraq after July 1. The coalition is splintering as its members with boots on the ground — Britain, Italy, Denmark, Poland and Hungary — face growing domestic opposition. And Mr. Rumsfeld’s “old” Europeans — France and Germany — and Russia are negotiating among themselves what demands will be made on President Bush in return for a favorable vote on a new U.N. resolution. The I-told-you-so European “oldsters” may see this one as diplomatic payback time.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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