Friday, October 20, 2006

Former Iraq Planning Chief: "The Iraq Situation Is Not Winnable In Any Real Sense Of The Word Winnable"...

The New York Times
Bush Faces a Battery of Ugly Choices on War

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 — The acknowledgment by the United States Army spokesman in Iraq that the latest plan to secure Baghdad has faltered leaves President Bush with some of the ugliest choices he has yet faced in the war.

He can once again order a rearrangement of American forces inside the country, as he did in August, when American commanders declared that newly trained Iraqi forces would “clear and hold” neighborhoods with backup support from redeployed American forces. That strategy collapsed within a month, frequently forcing the Americans to take the lead, making them prime targets.

There is no assurance, though, that another redeployment of those forces will reduce the casualty rate, which has been unusually high in recent weeks, senior military and administration officials say. The toll comes just before midterm elections, in which even many of his own party have given up arguing that progress is being made or that the killing will soon slow.

Or Mr. Bush can reassess the strategy itself, perhaps listening to those advisers — including some members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, the advisory commission charged with coming up with new strategies for Iraq — who say that he needs to redefine the “victory” that he again on Thursday declared was his goal.

One official providing advice to the president noted on Thursday that while Mr. Bush still insists his goal is an Iraq that “can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself,” he has already dropped most references to creating a flourishing democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

Or, he could take the advice of Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is expected to run to replace him in two years, who argues in favor of pouring more troops into Iraq, an option one senior administration official said recently might make sense but could “cause the bottom to fall out” of public support.

But whatever choices he makes — probably not until after the Nov. 7 election, and perhaps not until the bipartisan group issues its report — they will be forced by a series of events, in Iraq and at home, that now seems largely out of Mr. Bush’s control, in Iraq and at home.

Every day, administration and Pentagon officials fume — privately, to avoid the ire of the White House — about frustrations with Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, for not confronting the country’s Shiite militias, meaning that there is no end to the daily cycle of attack and reprisals. Mr. Bush finds himself increasingly unable to make a convincing argument that, behind the daily toll in American lives, the Maliki government is making measurable progress, or even that the problems in Iraq are subject to a military solution.

It is a vexing quandary that military experts say they doubt that any study group — even the blue-ribbon group assembled under former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana — can cut its way through.

At the Pentagon, several examinations of the current approach in Iraq are under way, including an effort ordered by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has asked the Army and the other services to identify officers who have recently returned from Iraq and to ask them to offer their views to the joint staff about whether adjustments in tactics or strategy are necessary, two military officials said.

“We are not able to project sufficient coalition and Iraqi forces to properly execute the strategy” of clearing, holding and rebuilding Baghdad and other areas of insurgents and hostile militias, said another veteran, retired Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff. “General Pace is doing the right thing by reassessing our entire strategy.”

Mr. Bush says his resolve to win is unshaken. But a few of his aides were wondering aloud why Mr. Bush, asked to respond to a column by Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times that compared the Ramadan attacks in Iraq to the 1968 Tet offensive, said the comparison “could be right.”

“There’s certainly a stepped up level of violence, and we’re heading into an election,” he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News on Wednesday. “George, my gut tells me that they have all along been trying to inflict enough damage that we would leave.”

For now there is no talk of leaving. But there is plenty of talk about pulling back.

“The Iraq situation is not winnable in any real sense of the word ‘winnable,’ ” Richard N. Haass, the former chief of the policy planning operations in the State Department during Mr. Bush’s first term, told reporters on Thursday. Privately, Pentagon strategists and some administration officials note that President Bush has talked often in recent months of changing his tactics, but not his strategy.

“Tactics are something you can turn on a dime,” said Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, and an Army veteran with close ties to the military. “Strategy takes time, and that’s the question. Do we have time for a new strategy?”

While members of the Iraq Strategy Group are cagey about the recommendations they are drafting, several say that Mr. Baker — who is in regular contact with Mr. Bush — is seeking to move away from Mr. Bush’s strategy of withdrawing Americans when the Iraqis are ready to replace them and toward one that sets a schedule.

“Jim’s problem is that he wants a way to make clear to Maliki that we’re leaving, but without signaling to the Shia and the Sunni that if they bide their time, they can battle it out for Iraq,” said one longtime national security expert who recently testified in front of the study group. “How do you do that? Got me.”

Then there is the recurring question whether a new strategy requires the exit of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Privately some Republicans say that the combination of a poor showing in next month’s midterm elections and the worsening violence could ultimately force Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure. Pentagon aides say Mr. Rumsfeld is not planning on going anywhere. “He serves at the pleasure of the president and has no intention to step down,” said Eric Ruff, the Pentagon press secretary. And, officially, the White House says it has no intention of changing its strategy, either. Only its tactics.