- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The United States has two main aims in Iraq. First, it aims to assist Iraqis in making Iraq into a functioning state and one day a real democracy. Second, to achieve the first aim, the insurgency must be defeated. So, how are we doing on both counts?

The Bush administration argues we are winning these battles, occasionally claiming that we have passed through critical “tipping” and “turning” points on the road to victory. Most recently, the perennially bullish vice president has predicted that the insurgency is on its last legs. But the latest news from Iraq has not been good.

The spike in the number of both Americans and Iraqis killed in the insurgency may or may not continue. Attacks are reportedly growing more sophisticated and deadly, and there appears to be no shortage of suicide bombers. As disruption of electrical power becomes a higher insurgent priority, the term “long, hot summer” will assume greater meaning in Iraq.

At home, a spate of recent polls shows plummeting public support over how the Bush administration is handling Iraq, assuming the word “handling” is appropriate. A handful of House Republicans have called for the administration to produce a plan by year’s end for reducing the American military presence in Iraq, reflecting a “wariness” that has not yet openly reached the level of “weariness” over the war. This could also spread to Senate Republicans many of whom remain privately convinced that we are not winning in Iraq.

Earlier this month, the Senate held confirmation hearings for Iraq Ambassador-designate Zalmay Khalilzad. That we have been without an ambassador there for nearly six months is a further small indicator of the difficulties inherent in “handling” Iraq. At those hearings, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden offered a dramatic assessment of the insurgency based on his fifth visit to Iraq. Mr. Biden noted that senior American military officers in Iraq openly acknowledged to him that it would take several more years for the Iraqi security forces to reach a level of proficiency sufficient to cope with the violence. Mr. Biden also warned Americans that we were just getting to the tough part of the long, hard slog in Iraq, a powerful caution from a well-informed and knowledgeable senator.

That today marks the anniversary of Hitler’s surprise invasion into Russia 64 years ago offers a significant lesson, even if some might regard any reference for U.S. policy as repugnant. In launching Operation Barbarossa, Hitler believed that in conquering the USSR, the Russian people were part and parcel of the enemy and would be so treated. Nazi ruthlessness did the near impossible, redirecting Russian hatred of Stalin against the invaders. The Russian people, aided by geography and winter, would turn the tide. Followed five and a half months later by Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the seeds for the destruction of fascism were irreversibly sown.

One lesson is incontrovertible. Nazi Germany and fascist Japan made fatal blunders that were neither strategic nor military. Hitler dismissed Russian nationalism. The Japanese believed that the strike on the Pacific Fleet would stun a pacifistic America into accepting a negotiated truce.

This is not 1941. Still, critics of the administration argue that American strategy has been uninformed by broader understanding of Iraq, of the insurgency and of how the invasion would be seen and seized on by the Islamic world, especially the more radical elements. And critics and supporters also complain that the administration is both overly secretive and unresponsive or opposed to outside advice. In response to events in Iraq and declining poll numbers, the White House has announced that the president will go on the road to persuade the nation of the soundness of his Iraqi policies culminating in a major policy speech at month’s end.

A public-relations campaign will not answer these questions and criticisms without an informed view of what is actually happening in Iraq and the insurgency. With an increasingly skeptical public, the only way to do this credibly, as well as to document the actual situation, is through a comprehensive bipartisan review of U.S. strategy in Iraq ,including evaluation of alternative courses of action. Above all, to be credible, any such review must be honest, truthful and public. The issue is convincing the president that an assessment is vital, as the White House will reject the suggestion of government by commission and attempts to penetrate its veil of secrecy.

In Vietnam, the “light at the end of the tunnel” became the metaphor for the failure of successive administrations to understand that war and to correct our errors. In Iraq, “tipping” and “turning” points are sliding into similar roles. But slogans are not strategies, truth or fact. Each is needed now. We are running out of time.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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