The Defiant War


Mar 19, 2006

This commentary originally appeared in San Francisco Chronicle on March 19, 2006.

When it began three years ago, few people could have anticipated that the combat in Iraq would last so long or that the enemy would become a stubborn and resilient insurgency

To be there or not to be is first question for U.S. about its future in Iraq

On the third anniversary of the Iraq war, Insight asked a variety of experts and analysts what they believe the United States should do, starting now, about the situation in Iraq. Here are their responses.


Gregory F. Treverton

Bad choices leave bad choices. The war against Saddam Hussein may have been a strategic mistake from the beginning, but walking away now is not the same, either practically or morally, as having avoided the strategic blunder of war in the first place.

Now, the best of the bad alternatives is recognizing that the conflict in Iraq will be a long one and readying American forces for a long war. The war's duration will be determined by how long it takes Iraqis, especially Sunnis, to truly look at what President Bush has called the abyss of unending violence and cut a deal. That time will not be soon.

U.S. forces should be dramatically reduced in number and focused on the insurgents — primarily through training and occasional support to operations, a mission akin to the one they played in El Salvador's war of the 1980s.

The country's sectarian divides make "Iraqi security forces" an oxymoron. In many places, the militias, especially the Shiite ones, are the security forces, and U.S. policy will have to tolerate them.

This strategy would build security where it is possible, waiting for Iraqis of all creeds to so tire of war that they are prepared to reach a deal that may not be pretty, and surely won't be democratic, but is better than war.

Treverton is a senior analyst at the Rand Corporation, a nonprofit research institution. He was vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the first Clinton administration, and the author of "Reshaping National Intelligence for an Age of Information."

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