Sunday, January 28, 2007

Middle Eastern Crisis Deepens, In And Out of Iraq

In listening to Democratic Sen. Chuck Scheumer of New York on NBC's Meet the Press this morning, it struck me just how confused and inconsistent the Democratic opposition is on the Middle East and Iraq. Scheumer talked about restraining President Bush on war policy, but he could not explain, then, why the Senate had voted 81-0, including himself, to confirm Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as the new U.S. commander there.

On the one hand, Scheumer seemed to be saying, let's stop Mr. Bush's "surge" of U.S. forces. On the other hand, let's give it a few months to see how it works. Petraeus has consistently been for the latter position.

As the Democrats in Congress hedge their bets, worried that too dovish a position could boomerang on them, the situation in Iraq and, for that matter, the entire Middle East, is getting worse.

Sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is spreading out of Iraq to other locales in the region. Just in the past week, there has been violence between the two groups in Lebanon, Pakistan, and, more or less directly, in Gaza and the West Bank. Within Iraq itself, there has been a ceaseless round of killings, not effectively restrained by either American forces or the pitiful Iraqi forces.

Some new American troops have already begun arriving in Baghdad, but the immediate outlook there is somber, and there has been a depressingly imaginative series of attacks inside and outside Baghdad against American forces.

Especially alarming was the attack, kidnapping and murder of several American soldiers in Karbala last week. It now appears that Iraqi troops assigned to provide security for the Americans allowed the insurgents easy access to where the Americans were, and then did nothing to stop them after the kidnappings. The fact is, increasingly, it is apparent that Americans simply cannot trust Iraqi units, either the army or police, and that the whole concept of embedding is faulty, that it means a lack of security for U.S. military men and women and higher American casualties.

Also, as of this morning, with a new report of a helicopter downing near Najaf, there appear to have been three American helicopters downed in the last week alone. The American casualties have been considerable, including the loss of the ranking U.S. surgeon in Iraq. More sophisticated missiles, some possibly from Iran, are imperiling our forces, and the U.S. response, thus far, has been inadequate.

Already, it appears that if the U.S. is to be successful in Baghdad, Kurdish troops are going to have to be used extensively in the city. At least, the Kurds are dependable, but this is a return in Iraq to the old British policy of using outside ethnic groups (in the British case, it was the Assyrians) to control the Iraqi people.

We must never forget that one of the few times in history that the volatile Iraqis have been successfully restrained was when the grandson of Genghis Khan executed 810,000 people in Baghdad. That shut up the rest for several generations. But the American forces would never undertake so draconian a policy.

The stakes in Iraq for the U.S. remain exceedingly high. I do not think that the views of President Bush, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. Petraeus that losing there would prove to have devastating consequences are at all unreasonable. And I agree with Petraeus and Gates that the raucous debate in Washington is emboldening the enemy.

But we live in a democracy and in the present situation, which rivals the situation in Korea in late 1950, when the Chinese intervened in the Korean War, in its grim nature, it is inevitable there will be debate.

In the meantime, I think it's important that the press in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East follow closely both the trials and strategies of U.S. military forces. If general war erupts in the Middle East, and it well may, in the last analysis we are going to have to depend on them. They are, of course, much more important to us, than the Iraqis.

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