- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2007

President Bush’s address tonight comes at a pivotal moment in the war in Iraq — a critical battleground in the war against Islamofascism. Three-and-a-half years ago, the United States launched a war that was successful in driving Saddam Hussein from power and giving the Iraqi people an historic opportunity to replace a brutal dictatorship with representative democracy. But since the summer of 2003, this noble cause has been haunted by coalition forces’ inability to administer a decisive blow to the terrorist insurgents and militias plaguing the country.

It is clear that continuing to have coalition troops use a “light footprint” to stabilize Iraq has not worked; and that bringing stability to Baghdad will not occur if U.S. forces repeat the unsuccessful tactics employed between June and October in Operation Together Forward, where U.S.-led forces cleared terrorists out of neighborhoods, but left behind inadequate power to hold them, relying instead on Iraqi police to do the job. The Iraqi forces proved incapable of doing this, and soon the neighborhoods were recaptured by Sunni and Shi’ite gangsters and the violence soared.

Mr. Bush hopes to change this by sending an additional 20,000 soldiers to Baghdad, who will be supplemented by additional Iraqi forces. In this context, the appointment of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, replacing Gen. George Casey, is a very important, positive step, as is the appointment of Adm. William Fallon to replace Gen. John Abizaid as head of Centcom. Both appointees appear much more receptive to the idea of sending additional troops.

In his speech tonight, Mr. Bush needs to explain what is at stake in Iraq. We hope he will find the language to explain why victory is so important, and why we cannot permit Iraq to fail. On Sunday’s edition of “Meet the Press,” Sen. Lindsey Graham articulated what is at stake: “Where do we agree as a nation that a failed state in Iraq is a disaster for our country? If Iraq fails and you have open civil war and it creates a regional conflict that would follow us for decades, that’s something every American should hope never happens and work together to prevent.”

Increasing troop levels in the Baghdad area will not by itself achieve a successful outcome in Iraq, as Mr. Graham noted. But security is a precondition to stabilizing Iraq, and putting more American troops on the ground is one plausible way to stop the violence and give the Iraqi government a chance to exercise its authority. This much is clear: If sending more troops to Baghdad is successful, it will be far less expensive in the long run than permitting Iraq to collapse.

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