- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2006

The testimony of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace and CENTCOM boss Gen. John Abazaid that they did not anticipate the current level of chaos and sectarian violence in Baghdad and that civil war is a real possibility has attracted a lot of attention from the so-called pundit class — mostly about cutting and running, and how the sorry situation in Iraq will affect the November elections.

What Gens. Pace and Abazaid’s cautionary testimony should do is underscore the necessity for immediate, decisive, resolute action — both in Iraq, and elsewhere in the region. Why elsewhere? Because in the Middle East, nothing happens in a vacuum. And the sooner we realize that basic fact of life, the more clarity and backbone we can put into our foreign policy.

For example, not 24 hours after the Pace-Abazaid testimony, thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites marched in support of Hezbollah, chanting “Death to Israel and Death to America.” These demonstrations did not develop spontaneously. They are part of an orchestrated program to discredit the United States and weaken the will of the American public with the principal objective of forcing us to withdraw from the region. Let’s not forget who controls Hezbollah, or who exercises control over many of Iraq’s Shi’a: the mullahs of Tehran and their acolytes, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. There are close to 1,000 IRGC infiltrators in Iraq as I write this — and they are not working on America’s behalf.

Facing such a determined enemy, now is not the time for the U.S. to — in the words of Margaret Thatcher — “go wobbly.” Nor is it time for recriminations. Granted, serious mistakes have been made — and heads should roll. And the carnage in Baghdad and elsewhere is serious. But, even as we deplore the number of Iraqis being killed daily, that death toll is smaller than the number of Americans killed on our highways every single day.

What we need to do now is reassess the current environment and modify our tactics and strategy as necessary to deal with the escalating chaos and, just as important, take Iran out of the picture. These are not impossible objectives. We still enjoy a tactical “window of opportunity” in which to take decisive action. But it does mean unleashing our full military capabilities. A measured response will not get the job done. As in most wars, if you want to win you must bring overwhelming force into play.

Another issue that must be addressed is the status of the current elected Iraqi government. What — if anything — does our intelligence tell us about its reliability? Will Iraq’s leaders support the muscular military action necessary to bring the chaos under control?

These questions must be answered in a no-nonsense manner. The answers will help the White House; the Pentagon and the U.S. Central Command as they develop future plans as well as determine the size of the forces we will need to achieve our objectives in Iraq and also send the necessary signals to Tehran.

James “Ace” Lyons Jr., a retired U.S. Navy admiral, has served as commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (the largest single military command), senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations and as deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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