Publication:IBD; Date:Dec 11, 2006;      Section:Issues & Insights;    Page Number:18               

Fire The Generals 

The War In Iraq: Victory requires a change in strategy. The Iraq Study Group offers no more than a blueprint for defeat. So what will work? 

 No one knows for sure. But it’s easy to see what’s not working — the strategy of maintaining status quo U.S. troop strength while handing off security duties to an Iraqi military not yet able to perform them.

This is one point on which the ISG and the current military command, led by Gen. John Abizaid, seem to agree. It is politically appealing. It also is a failure, as the carnage in Baghdad demonstrates. 

For a long time, President Bush seemed content with this strategy, often expressed in his pledge that U.S. forces will “stand down” when Iraqis are ready to stand up. But clearly he is looking for a new course. His next step should be to assert his authority as commander in chief and find new military leadership.

It’s not that Abizaid and his top commander, Gen. George Casey, have an unbroken record of failure. Until this year, they could count some important successes. But they continued to believe that the best route to victory was to force the Iraqis to fight their own battles and avoid “dependency” on the Americans. 

The facts on the ground changed, however, after the Feb. 22 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra touched off sectarian strife and undermined the motivation of Iraqi troops. Instead of fighting al-Qaida foreigners or holdouts from Saddam Hussein’s regime, they found themselves fighting fellow Iraqis. 

At that point it would have made sense for the U.S. to take on more direct responsibility for security until peace was restored to Baghdad and other hot spots. Instead, the U.S. continued to push the Iraqis into security missions for which they were not ready.

We can’t blame generals for unforeseen acts of terror. But it is fair to demand flexibility and results. Strong wartime presidents and prime ministers do not give generals all the time in the world to turn around a bad situation. Impatience is a virtue at such times.

Former Army Col. Douglas Macgregor — from whom we stole the title of this editorial — notes that Churchill moved quickly when faced with “the miserable performance of British generals in the opening battles of World War II.” As Churchill put it to the chief of the Imperial General Staff: “This is a time to try men of force and vision.” Lincoln, likewise, had limited patience with sluggish commanders such as McClellan and Meade. He finally banked on a rough-edged outsider, Ulysses S. Grant, and won his war.

Bush might do well to run with an idea from military historian and columnist Victor Davis Hanson. Interviewed on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last week, Hanson suggested that the president “just get all the 100 one-star generals, and say the first onestar general that can find something that we’re going to win (with) is going to be a four-star general.”

Meantime, common sense says the U.S. will have to act more forcefully, probably with tens of thousands more troops, to break what is now a stalemate at best.

If the president wants us to leave Iraq in a state of security that the Iraqi army can easily maintain (a good working definition of “victory”), he needs to heed the counsel of those in and out of uniform who still believe that goal can be reached. From among them he needs to pick “men of force and vision” to carry on the fight.