Deploy a larger military force in Iraq to do the job right

December 29, 2005|By JOHN C. BERSIA

ORLANDO, FLA. -- Now that Iraqis have turned out in droves for a seemingly fair vote to establish a legislature, the situation begs for strategic clarity. After all, the self-restraint that insurgents practiced during the election will pass. If Iraq is to have a chance for sanity and calm, the global community will need to muster much more gumption.

I would like to see President Bush and other leaders who talk about security and stability in Iraq go big in terms of their plans to help that country.

What would Iraqis, Americans, allied forces and most others with a constructive interest applaud most? A reasonably rapid transition to stable rule by the Iraqi people, a dampening of the insurgency and an orderly withdrawal of foreign troops - sooner rather than later. What would enemies of the new Iraq applaud most? A weak, meandering Iraqi government, opportunities for the insurgency to ratchet up its disruptiveness and an essentially open-ended stay for U.S. and other foreign forces.

To advance the peaceful Iraqi majority's interests and sideline the insurgents, Mr. Bush and other leaders should start with a public acknowledgment that the allies have far too few troops in Iraq; indeed, they have never had enough to do the job properly.

To help Iraq fulfill the promise of the Dec. 15 elections, a larger military force should be deployed without delay. That could happen in one of several ways:

First, the Iraqis themselves could produce the necessary force as a direct result of accelerated recruitment and training. That sounds encouraging but is unrealistic. Although the Iraqis certainly are gathering enough momentum to stay ahead of the casualties the insurgents inflict on them, they lack the means to deliver enough troops in time to save the new Iraq. Until their numbers and experience expand significantly, they can at best assist.

Second, the Bush administration could start ordering more U.S. troops to Iraq, building up the overall foreign military presence to about a quarter-million. Such a decision would rub many Americans the wrong way, in light of mounting U.S. costs and casualties in Iraq - not to mention pressing needs elsewhere. Still, it might be the only choice. Even a superpower cannot triumph over what it fails to secure. If properly locked down, Iraq would offer little sanctuary or flexibility for insurgents.

Third, NATO members - who have taken an appropriately active role in Afghanistan but are still sitting on nine of their 10 fingers in Iraq - should recognize a strong incentive to participate more directly. The political unrest, ideological ferment and religious extremism playing out in Iraq have recorded echoes in some European cities. If NATO countries don't summon the will to play a larger role in resolving Iraq's crisis, external fallout will spread and the ranks of enemies within Europe could swell.

Fourth, a substantially new military force could take shape in Iraq, one that would avoid the problems of the others by delivering experienced troops who would not bear the stigma that the United States and former colonial powers such as Britain cannot shake. If a key part of the insurgents' rhetoric is anti-American and anti-European, why not cobble together a Muslim peacekeeping force from countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan?

Of course, some U.S. and allied troops would have to remain to help guarantee the peace. Such a Muslim force would deny the insurgents propaganda fuel while putting them to a test: If the insurgents continued their assaults, their hypocrisy would be exposed for all to see.

The Iraqi people have struggled long and hard, first under Saddam Hussein and now under a transitional period that contains too many uncertainties. The global community must act quickly, lest the latest Iraqi election's promise disappear in the coming storm of insurgent violence.

John C. Bersia is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, a special assistant to the president for global perspectives and a professor at the University of Central Florida. His e-mail is jbersia@orlandosentinel.com.

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