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Military Solutions, Then Political Solutions

By Mark Davis

As we await President Bush's war speech tonight, my first question is basic math.

What exactly will 20,000 new troops do that the existing 140,000 have not? Is there something magical about 160,000 that will enable us to crush the insurgency and stem sectarian violence?

It seems we have fallen so short of those vital goals that a doubling of our forces might be more in order. But as Democrats and even some Republicans shower the commander in chief with doubts and threats, I will defer - for a while.

The war on Iraq is now bottom-line oriented. 2007 will bring one of two things: an uplifting change of fortunes that will convince even naysayers that Mr. Bush's vision was ultimately correct and his goals worthwhile, or a disheartening continuing failure to supply the security necessary to Iraq's progress toward democracy.

There have been claims that Iraq requires a political solution, not a military solution. This starkly uninformed view neglects the fact that a political solution is not remotely possible until a military solution is achieved.

Does anyone believe the Sunnis and Shiites are going to stop slaughtering one another just because America provides more job creation programs or encourages added involvement in the newly created legislature?

Both of those are good ideas, but they are inoperable until Iraq has been made safe and secure. If 20,000 more pairs of boots get us there, success may be at hand. If not, forget it.

If the 2006 electorate made clear it wants change in the war, Mr. Bush is offering a heaping helping. He has replaced the secretary of defense. He has replaced the two most powerful generals on the ground. He talks constantly of a new direction with benchmarks for success that will bring us closer to his plan of a free, functional Iraq whose example will be a beacon to the Islamic world that its nations can walk upright, observing the current century's standards of liberty and self-determination.

What needs to change is not just the number of troops but what they do. I will defer to commanders on the ground only as far as their plans seem to work. Mr. Bush speaks often of listening to those commanders, but if one observes that he appears to be rejecting their most recent advice, it is only because that advice has taken us precisely nowhere.

So as longtime war critics moan that Mr. Bush isn't listening to generals who share their skepticism of troop level increases, it should be remembered that he is their boss and that the ultimate decision is his.

His decision-making window is closing fast, however. The tattered patience of an already war-weary nation ensures an even spindlier foundation from which to reach for success on a calendar that features a vote for his successor next year. This is the year that will decide much of the legacy he leaves.

Democrats in Congress seems to feel a similar urgency, as if their control is a brief flirtation with power that they had best maximize in the short term. The war may linger well past 2008, but they will not be able to bust the chops of this president much longer, so it's time for the heavy rhetorical artillery.

"Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam," blathered Sen. Edward Kennedy this week at a National Press Club speech. "What he's doing is wrong," echoed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. "We've got to start bringing our folks home."

Our political dictionaries need a term for the dementia that leads those occupying the legislative branch to dream that they actually occupy the Oval Office.

As long as he is still commander in chief, this is George W. Bush's call. His words tonight will be met with both hope and skepticism - from both parties. But while the president has a big task ahead of him, at least he is buoyed by the knowledge that unlike many of his tormentors, he is still interested in winning.

Mark Davis is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. The Mark Davis Show is heard weekdays nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. His e-mail address is

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