- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Let me be blunt. Iraq and Afghanistan are close to becoming, or already are, failed states.

The United States has embarked on one final roll of the dice. The so-called surge, or more precisely ooze, of some 22,000 additional troops into Iraq is meant to “clear, hold and build” huge chunks of Baghdad, imposing a measure of law and order unseen for a very long time. With a decline in violence, so the theory goes, Iraqi security forces will be able to replace Americans and Iraqis can get on with their lives. After Baghdad, the next stop is al Anbar province to the West, the cradle and stronghold of much of the Sunni insurrection.

Given the Bush administration’s refusal to accept outside advice and criticism, one can only hope the surge works. But hope is not a strategy. And, as we are seeing, the violence is merely shifting to other parts of Iraq.

Tal Afar in northwest Iraq was once a highly lauded instance of successful pacification. Last week, more than 100 Sunnis and Shi’ites were murdered in revenge killings — a horrendous indication of the state of security and level of violence that cannot be tamed by the relatively small number of U.S. troops in this surge. Put in U.S. terms, given the population differences, the Tal Afar death toll was nearly equivalent to all those who perished in the Twin Towers on September 11.

Ninety years ago, amid a Europe aflame in conflict and with single battles that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau concluded that “war was too important to be left to the generals.” But can politicians do better? In Iraq, politicians have been unable to unify warring Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. In America, politicians of both parties and houses of government have likewise failed. Congress under Republican control did not provide any oversight on these wars and now Democrats cannot come up with a better alternative for Iraq because none exists.

So, if war in Iraq seems beyond the scope of generals and politicians have failed in its conduct, what choices are left? Since President Bush will get his way and the surge will persist at least until much later in the year, what else can be done to increase the chances of this strategy working? There is a surprisingly simple answer.

South of the president, what American is in charge in either Iraq or in Afghanistan? Put another way, what individual person or headquarters has full authority over all of America’s people and resources stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan? The answer is no one. If unity of command is essential to success, divided command is too often the cause of failure.

In Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus has no authority outside his chain of command or, in administration parlance, “outside his lane.” If, for example, the general desperately needed civilians from other U.S. agencies for Provisional Reconstruction Teams, he could no more order them to those slots then the new ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, can command military operations.

Afghanistan is even more confused in terms of who is in charge. And the near simultaneous turnover of all major military commanders — Central Command, European Command, the overall NATO commander, the NATO commander of the International and Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF) and the local U.S. commander — has blurred prior lines of command, control and authority. It will take time, one resource we do not have, to work these lines of authority out.

No silver bullet exists. But a good start is to put one person completely in charge of Iraq with full authority across the U.S. government despite the squeals of protest from dissenting cabinet secretaries.

The best pick for the Iraqi job is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Mr. Gates has already distinguished himself as a no-nonsense, decisive leader. Since Mr. Gates’ top three priorities are Iraq, Iraq and Iraq, giving him broader authority seems reasonable and running the rest of the Pentagon could be placed in the capable hands of Deputy Secretary Gordon England.

Afghanistan is far more complicated. Sixty states are engaged, 37 on a military basis. A high commissioner representing the European Union (or some such body) should be appointed immediately with a portfolio that gives authority to advance the failing efforts to create a legal, judicial and police structure; develop an agrarian reform and jobs creation program; and come to grips with controlling the cascading drug trade.

Make no mistake. This is the last chance for us and our partners to keep Iraq and Afghanistan from becoming failed states. Unless political solutions can be found, we will not succeed. And, as history shows, political solutions cannot work based on fragmented authority and divided command.


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