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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



PETERS No More Troops
by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 10/11/06

With 26 American troops dead in Iraq in the first nine days of October, the combination of bad news and pre-election politics has those on one bench arguing for bailing out immediately and those on the other bench frantic to pile on.

Neither position is realistic. We're not going to pull out of Iraq overnight - no matter what happens in November. The "bring the troops home now" voices always blended arch political cynicism with willful naiveté - it's always been about Bush, not Iraq.

Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

But remaining in Baghdad requires a new sense of reality. "Stay the course" is meaningless when you don't have a course - and the truth is that the administration still doesn't have a strategy, just a jumble of programs, slogans and jittery improvisations.

Our Army and Marine Corps urgently need increases in personnel strength. They've been stripped to the strategic and tactical bone. We need more boots. But not on the ground in Iraq.

Sending more troops wouldn't help and can't be done. It's too late. We've reached the point where Iraqis must fight for their own future. If they won't, nothing we can do will bring success.

As this column stressed months ago, the test for whether we should remain in Iraq is straightforward: Will Iraqis fight in decisive numbers for their own elected, constitutional government? The insurgents, militiamen and foreign terrorists are willing to die for their causes. If "our" Iraqis won't match that strength of will, Iraq will fail.

If Iraq's leaders stop squabbling and lead, and if Iraq's soldiers and police fight resolutely for their constitutional state, we should be willing to stay "as long as it takes." But if they continue to wallow in ethnic and religious partisanship while doing as little as possible for their own country, we need to leave and let them face the consequences.

Give them one more year. And that's it.

Meanwhile, the notion of sending more U.S. troops is strategic and practical nonsense. Had the same voices demanded another 100,000-plus troops in 2003 or even 2004, it would have made a profound, positive difference. Now it's too late.

By refusing to adequately increase active-duty numbers in the early phases of this struggle, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ground down our Army and Marines - both the flesh-and-blood troops and their gear. We must not ask the understrength forces who've carried the burden of this fight to shoulder yet more weight.

Make no mistake: Were our nation directly threatened, our ground forces would surge to respond powerfully and effectively. But as far as Iraq goes, they've given their best. They're willing to die for our country. But we should never ask them to give their lives to postpone a political embarrassment.

This doesn't mean that we can't temporarily deploy additional brigades for specific missions. But it does mean that we've got to shoot dead any nonsense about adding tens of thousands more troops on a long-term basis. It won't help. All we can do now is hold open the door for the Iraqis to go through. It's their fight.

And we have to avoid letting Iraq develop a military-welfare dependency on us. While even a successful Iraqi force would need U.S. support for years to come, the issue is: Who will take the lead in combat? The Iraqis must do this themselves - and their moment of truth can no longer be delayed.

It's absurd to brag that Iraq now has 300,000 men in uniform if all most of them do is collect paychecks and duck responsibility - while backing their own ethnic and religious factions.

And, although it pains me to write it, we can't trust the judgment of our military officers as to whether Iraqi troops and police are making sufficient progress. Clientitis happens. Our trainers inevitably cling to the success stories, insisting, Yeah, those other guys poked the pooch - but Col. Mohammed's men are doing a great job.

Our advisers develop emotional bonds with their Iraqi charges and lose big-picture objectivity. When it comes to judging Iraqi progress, the only useful measure is the security situation. If the carnage continues unchallenged by the Iraqis, game over.

Iraq is not yet lost, but it's harder every day to be optimistic. It's still too soon to give up - we must have the fortitude to weather very dark days. But we also need the guts to recognize when it's time to cut our losses. In Iraq, the verdict must come in 2007.

It's up to the Iraqis to make their case.

For us, the tragic aspect isn't what would follow an American withdrawal. That would be yet another grotesque Arab tragedy. What's heartbreaking is that we did the right thing by deposing Saddam Hussein, but we did it unforgivably badly.

A Victorian-era cliché ran that the saddest words in the English language are "if only." Well, if only Secretary Rumsfeld had permitted detailed planning for an occupation, sent enough troops when it would've made a difference, allowed our commanders to enforce the rule of law when they reached Baghdad . . . and so on, for a hundred other pigheaded mistakes.

Well, you face the future with the Iraq you've got, not the Iraq you'd like to have. We owe the Iraqis one last chance, and it's up to them to take it.

But no more U.S. troops. Make the Iraqis fight for their own country. If they won't, we need to accept that a noble endeavor failed.

People get the government they earn. Those of us who believed that the situation in the Middle East required desperate measures may have to accept that the cynics were right when they insisted that Arabs can't govern themselves democratically. What if it doesn't take a village? What if it takes a Saddam?

If Iraq does fail, the cold truth is that the United States will do fine. We'll honor our dead, salve the wounds to our vanity and march on stronger than ever (with the world's most powerful and most experienced military). But the Middle East will have revealed itself as hopeless. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2006 - NY Post

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