- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The White House’s new strategy paper on Iraq is as much a list of talking points aimed at winning political support as it is a national security blueprint on how the military will achieve victory.

“The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity,” says the paper. “And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.”

Released yesterday, the voluminous “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” restates in more detail some of the main political points President Bush has been emphasizing to counteract calls from some Democrats for a complete troop withdrawal or an exit timetable.

“Iraq would become a safe haven from which terrorists could plan attacks against America, American interests abroad and our allies,” the strategy states. “Middle East reformers would never again fully trust American assurance of support for democracy and human rights in the region — a historic opportunity lost.”

The strategy presents no new shift in tactics, but instead reaffirms the decisions of field commanders to, day-by-day, place more security responsibility in the hands of the emerging Iraqi Security Forces so American troops can depart.

“There isn’t any change to what we’re doing,” said a senior Pentagon official.

The strategy makes the case for patience: “It is not realistic to expect a fully functioning democracy, able to defeat its enemies and peacefully reconcile generational grievances, to be in place [in] less than three years.”

The statement is a far more sober outlook than the administration predicted before the March 2003 invasion. A subsequent secret study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, blamed poor war planning for failing to predict the insurgency. It said not enough time was spent on post-Saddam Hussein scenarios and that the White House did not properly conduct the interagency decision-making process.

The paper’s release coincided with the first of a series of speeches by Mr. Bush on his Iraq policy.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, a Vietnam and 1991 Persian Gulf War commander who traveled to Iraq earlier this year, generally applauded the president’s speech.

“It’s likely to work, this current U.S. strategy,” Gen. McCaffrey said. “I would be reasonably confident by next fall that Iraq will look like an emerging state with an operational government and an Iraqi security force that is largely controlling much of the land area of Iraq.”

He added, “He had to signal the armed forces, after 18,000 killed and wounded, that he wasn’t going to walk away from them. I thought it was a very important and strong statement.”

Gen. McCaffrey said it is likely that by next summer the 138,000-member U.S. contingent will be cut by one-third to ease stress on the force. “Morale is generally high there,” he said. “Having said that, [the troops] are starting their third and fourth combat tours. It’s simply not workable that you can continue to have them go a year out and a year back. … Retention will suffer.”

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