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Iraq Requires a Military Solution

By Dennis Byrne

Iraq requires a military solution.

That's not what the au fait class of jabbering media and pols says, as they repeat, reinforced by each other's dictums, that Iraq requires a political solution, whatever that means, but we don't find out because the analysis doesn't go much deeper than that. They just know that President George W. Bush's new plan for victory in Iraq must be a "political solution."

The truth is that just about every war we've fought (except possibly the War of 1812) ended with a military solution. At least the ones we won. The Civil War didn't end with the political solution of the South voluntarily giving up slavery. America's victory at Yorktown was a military one in that we kicked the British out of our country. World Wars I and II ended with Germany's and Japan's military defeat.

Korea has waited half of a century for a political solution, but without the military reality of pushing the North Korean and Chinese communists back to roughly the 38th parallel, we'd be talking today not about a nuclear North Korea, but a nuclear Korea.

You'll recall that we had a political solution in Vietnam--for which they handed out a couple of Nobel peace prizes--until we had a disagreeable military solution in which North Vietnamese tanks rolled through Saigon after the American Congress, in pursuit of a political solution, withdrew military aid for South Vietnam, leaving it a sitting duck for the well-financed forces of North Vietnam.

Sure, a political understanding can be a part of the solution (we used to call it a "victory," but in consideration for the sensitivities of all, we now call it a solution). But a military victory is a first and necessary part of every successful solution to armed conflict on the scale of a war.

Which is why Bush will, or certainly ought to, have an overriding military component for his plan for victory in Iraq. And what that military component ought to be is clear: Security for the people of Iraq.

That should be obvious, or maybe it's too obvious. We've been acting like it's a mystery, as if no one has ever successfully fought an insurgency. It's been that way from the start, when the military idly stood by shortly after our victorious invasion of Iraq, as if maintaining civil order was not a part of its job.

Kenneth M. Pollack, research director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a reasonable voice in support of the Iraqi invasion, was prescient when he warned in his 2002 book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq of the post-invasion dangers: "The rebuilding of Iraq cannot be an afterthought to a policy of regime change. Instead, it must be a central element in U.S. preparations. It is likely to be the most important and difficult part of the policy, and we would be living with the results or suffering from the consequences for many decades to come. Saddam's overthrow would remove an enormous threat to the vital interests of the United States. However, because Iraq is a pivotal state in one of the most important and fragile regions of the world, what will follow Saddam is of equal importance. It would be a tragic mistake if we were to remove the threat of Saddam only to create some new, perhaps equally challenging, threat in Iraq following his demise."

Everyone credited former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's "broken windows" policy for successfully reducing crime and stabilizing neighborhoods. If you allow a neighborhood to look a mess, like it has been abandoned, it eventually will become a real, deadly mess. But if you do the necessary things, even though seemingly small--fixing the broken windows and driving the punks, bums, gang bangers and criminals off the street corners--good things will follow.

What Iraqis want most in their neighborhoods and towns, according to just about every poll taken, is security. To be safe from the violent religious fanatics and their insane sectarian war. And how do you provide safety and security? Not as we've been doing--"securing" a neighborhood or town by driving out the insurgents, and then moving on, allowing the insurgents to filter back to retake it and terrorize its people. Continual presence, of sufficient strengthen and time, is required not just to create a sense of safety, but the reality of safety.

Electricity and water will be insufficient until there is security. Oil pumping capacity and revenues won't be met until there is security. Political moderates will never gain control of the government, until there is security. Education, commerce and every aspect of Iraqi life will fall short of normality until there is security.

The most crucial place for that to happen is in Baghdad, the battlefield of the insurgents' selection, the most difficult place to secure and, once secured, a model for the rest of the country.

That will take military force, of the kind and numbers that we haven't deployed. In all of Baghdad, a city of 7 million, U.S. troops number only 15,000--a number self-evidently insufficient.

So, how many troops are required to secure and hold Baghdad? I don't know; it's up to a non-politicized military to tell us. But I do know that the debate leading up to Bush's Wednesday evening speech is backwards: Instead of asking how many troops are needed to secure and hold Baghdad, we're starting with a number--say, 20,000--and asking if that is politically acceptable.

We should hope that Bush doesn't come forward with a number of increased troops that is politically expedient, because that will only insure that this last chance for victory in Iraq will be lost.

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist. dennis@dennisbyrne.net.

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