- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In Baghdad and the center of Iraq, conditions continue to worsen. Despite the death of Abu Musab Zarqawi, violence has spiked. The murder of four Russian diplomats is the latest outrage. So, where did last week’s debate on Capitol Hill lead us? Not very far.

Instead of focusing on the most critical and missing component of what passes for U.S.-Iraq policy — the need for a comprehensive, detailed and workable plan for unifying and reconstructing Iraq — the debate was dominated by conflicting and confusing arguments on “timetables” and set dates for American withdrawal from Iraq and was distorted by bitter partisan politics.

Republicans argued to “stay the course,” accusing Democrats of “cutting and running.” Democrats labeled the Bush policy as one of “lie and die” and offered two proposals for deployments and set dates next year for a draw-down that were roundly defeated in the Senate. Meanwhile, the U.S. military in Baghdad was drawing up plans for reducing American presence this year and President Bush reaffirmed that “events on the ground” would determine any withdrawals.

Over the weekend, Iraqi Prime Minister Nour Malaki announced a 24-part reconciliation plan that included “amnesty,” a topic raised earlier in print by Iraq’s national security adviser. A chorus of congressional Republicans and Democrats, reacting to emotion rather than reason, rejected amnesty for Iraqis who attacked or killed U.S. forces, forgetting that in virtually every war this nation has fought, amnesty was important — from retaining Japan’s Emperor Hirohito to Americanizing Nazi rocket scientist Werner von Braun to embracing the “chieu hoi” or “open arms” policy in the Vietnam War for bringing Viet Cong terrorists over to our side.

Unfortunately, the White House remained averse to developing a comprehensive plan for Iraq and Congress proved incapable of demanding that such a road map be produced. No plan will assure success. But the absence of a plan goes a long way to guarantee failure.

Consider two specific issues for such a plan: rectifying a gross lack of electricity and standing up the Iraqi army. Electricity in Baghdad is on for only a few hours a day, which is a clearly calamitous condition. As a top priority, the Iraqi government, with our help, must develop a detailed plan to bring electrical power up to at least prewar levels as soon as possible. So, where is that plan?

A central tenet of our strategy is turning security responsibilities over to the Iraqi army. That means in the first instance weaning Iraqi security forces from complete dependence on American support — from embedded forces to firepower, logistics and transportation. It also means providing basic needs for their soldiers, such as pay. In the absence of a functioning banking and postal system, Iraqi soldiers are being paid in cash and given time off to deliver money to families and dependents back home, possibly hundreds of miles away. No army can stay the course and win under these circumstances. So where is the plan for corrective action?

A credible plan must also show how we will deal with these and other critical elements, including amnesty, to make Iraq a working country. Without some means of reconciling warring factions, violence will continue. This also includes putting in place capable ministries of defense and interior that can provide the crucial support without which the security forces cannot carry out their missions. And unless the regional states and other powers are involved in some sort of conference on Iraq, success will remain illusive and illusory. Unfortunately, while both the U.S. military and private sector excel in planning, this concept seems incomprehensible to the White House and Congress.

The concept of drafting a comprehensive plan for Iraq is not rocket science, although the degree of difficulty in finding workable solutions may dwarf the challenges of sending people into space and placing men on the moon. Make no mistake. Iraq is going very badly. We are running out of time. As November elections approach, the White House remains bent on staying the course and unwilling to offer specific actions and steps to deal with obvious problems and Congress engages in a verbal food fight, Iraq will not heal itself.

If the White House cannot be persuaded to draft and advance a credible and comprehensive plan, then the buck stops with Congress. Whether a Republican-dominated Congress, torn apart by partisanship, can rise above the bickering and find common cause with Democratic colleagues to engage in a serious effort to deal responsibly with what may be the most serious strategic blunder of our lifetime is not merely a crucial question. To paraphrase Shakespeare, it is the question.

If we and Iraq lose in this quest, failure to plan will surely compete as our gravest mistake along with our failure to understand the magnitude of the test.

Harlan Ullman writes for The Washington Times. His latest book is “America Restored: Preventing Culture, Crusade and Partisanship from Wrecking Our Nation.”

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