September 2, 2003

September 2, 2003 | Commentary on Middle East

Time to Tinker

Crusty old warhorse colonels admonish their young charges with Murphy's Law of Combat: "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." This is because war, especially today, is exceedingly dynamic and complex. Anything that can go wrong, often will.

Iraq is no exception. Any expectation of unmitigated success in warfare is foolhardy.

President Bush was undoubtedly correct when he announced that major combat operations ended on May 1: The Iraqi army had been vanquished and no longer posed a major battlefield threat.

But the successful dismemberment of the Republican Guard clearly didn't end all hostilities. And a number of brave Americans, coalition soldiers - and Iraqis - have, regrettably, made the ultimate sacrifice in the blistering sands of Southwest Asia over the last four months.

The Bush administration's decision to consider new options to address the ever-evolving security challenges in Iraq is spot on and should be applauded.

Iraq is now home to a deadly combination of guerrilla warfare (against coalition troops), terrorism (against innocent civilians) and premeditated sabotage (against critical economic infrastructure, such as electrical grids and oil pipelines) by Saddam's Ba'athist loyalists and an increasing number of foreign self-styled mujahadeen (now estimated at over 1,000 fighters).

Their targets now extend to the international community, as proven by the bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad. Their goal: Sink all efforts to transition Iraq from tyranny to freedom.

Until the United States can hand control for security over to a new Iraqi government, Washington and its international partners are going to be responsible for providing the security environment conducive to successful governance, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction.

The continuing violence begs the question: Are 140,000 American troops sufficient to get the job done? Probably. But the provision of a cadre of capable, multinational peacekeeping troops to supplement, or replace, American forces could improve the prospects of success in Iraq. Here's why:

A multinational force could provide on-the-street-corner presence, help guard the economic infrastructure, accelerate the training of the new Iraqi army and security services and patrol borders to block the influx of foreign fighters. Such assistance would spell welcome relief for some American troops who have been in Iraq for a while. (Not to mention relief to the U.S. Treasury.)

Perhaps more importantly, international peacekeepers would free American forces to hunt down guerrillas, terrorists and Saddam Hussein.

NATO could reprise in Iraq the stabilizing role it is playing in Afghanistan, where nearly all 19 of the alliance's member nations are contributing to the stabilization force. Though some nations may shun combat operations in Iraq, contributions of special operations forces - perfect for Iraq's low-intensity conflict environment - would be welcomed.

And since the United States would still provide the bulk of the forces in Iraq, any foreign troops deployed there should be under U.S. command.

Using Muslim troops (from Turkey, Pakistan or elsewhere) could change the impression of an American occupation and pacify some angry Iraqis (and other Muslims), who perceive the presence of U.S. and coalition troops as a clash of civilizations. Using Iraqi forces, when they are ready, would be even better.

More American infantry troops would not necessarily improve the security situation for Iraqis or for U.S. forces. In fact, a larger force might prove more unwieldy and ultimately harder to protect from guerrilla/terrorist hit-and-run tactics: More U.S. troops equals more U.S. targets.

Adjustments to the force structure in Iraq may be warranted. A review of the situation is unquestionably a good idea. Throwing more American troops at the current situation is not necessarily the answer.

But we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that we win the peace. The eyes of the international community, especially those in the Middle East, are upon us. Iraq's future, the War on Terror and American credibility - all depend on our success. Murphy's Law notwithstanding, failure is not an option.

Peter Brookes is a senior fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Reprinted with permission of The New York Post