Monday, November 20, 2006

We Have To Make Up Our Minds What To Do In Iraq

The New York Times had a most compelling story on Page 1 Sunday about a U.S. Army military police captain stationed south of Baghdad who has decided that her priority at this point is simply to get her company home safely, without any further deaths.

Stephanie A. Bagley, 30, a West Point graduate, a third-generation officer and a beautiful, intelligent woman, is commander of the 21st Military Police Company, which was sent to Iraq last year from Fort Bragg, N.C., with the mission of training Iraqi police to stem the terrorist insurgency.

It has been a disillusioning experience. As the months have passed, Bagley has found that the police she is training are rife with militia and insurgent influences. On Oct. 2, when Sgt. Joseph Walter Perry, 23, a member of Bagley's company, was shot and killed by a sniper in a marketplace, the article says that Bagley was devastated. It was the first fatality in her company, and she is determined it will be the last before the company goes home in December. So, perhaps taking her career in her hands, Bagley decided to withhold her company from such experiences. She is no longer sending it out on dangerous assignments.

Unfortunately, Bagley's experience and disillusionment are by no means uncommon these days among U.S. military forces stationed in Iraq. Since the Mid Term election, in particular, a feeling of uncertainty seems to have settled in as to what the future course for the U.S. in the war will be. Troop morale understandably has suffered, and in the uncertainty, military initiative is at a minimum.

The Baker Commission is expected to report next month. on possible options. Robert Gates may be confirmed as Donald Rumsfeld's replacement as Secretary of Defense by the end of the year. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has been quoted in recent days as saying he no longer feels the war is winnable. But in the meantime, the U.S. war effort is in a state of limbo. Since no future policy has been decided, and the available options range widely from a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to an increase in troop levels and a new effort to pursue the war, it is not surprising there are a number of Captain Bagleys, loyal to the Army but unwilling to take risks when no one can tell whether the war effort has been worthwhile.

Officials in Washington owe our 140,000 troops in Iraq and the thousands more being rotated in and out in the next couple of months a decision as soon as possible. It is unfair to them to keep them in such a state of uncertainty.

But it seems increasingly the case that no precipitate American withdrawal is in the cards, and that it is quite likely a new, perhaps revised effort will be made to prevail in the war.

The world is not what New York Times columnist Frank Rich, or the rest of the cut-and-run crowd, wish it is. The consequences of an American withdrawal might be immense and extremely unfavorable to American interests. And there is no majority in the new Congress to compel such a course.

In these circumstances, we have to get off the dime and decide what to do. Sectarian warfare in Iraq is only intensifying. The government of Premier Nouri al-Maliki is hopelessly inept at best and traitorous to the very interests it was created to implement at the worst. This regime, if we stay on, may have to be replaced. Negotiations must be pursued with neighboring states to see if they will cooperate, even to a minor extent, on a future course.

In the meantime, we have to be fair to our troops. They must know soon what the policy is, and what we expect them to do. Then Captain Bagley and the other officers in Iraq can rest a little easier. Right now, Bagley told New York Times writer Kirk Semple she is in "a no-sleep mode."

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