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Misbegotten mission.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Americans aren't buying President Bush's directionless "strategy" in Iraq, despite his increasingly dire predictions of the consequences of leaving "before the job is done."

Bush claimed at a Monday news conference that prematurely withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq would "make America less secure," "provide safe haven for terrorists and extremists" and "embolden those who are trying to thwart the ambitions of reformers." The public response? Sixty-one percent of Americans surveyed said they oppose the war - the highest level of opposition ever recorded in a CNN Iraq war poll.

Throughout the news conference, Bush harped on the theme of remaining in Iraq until "the job is done," but he never said for sure what the job is. Using the process of elimination, it's possible to ascertain some of what the job is not.

It is not about finding weapons of mass destruction; or being greeted as liberators after deposing Saddam Hussein; or providing post-Saddam Iraqis with peace, security and a stable economy; or fulfilling promises to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure; or establishing Iraq as a beacon of democracy in a new Middle East.

As the White House searches in vain for a way to salvage its misbegotten mission in Iraq, the staggering human and financial costs continue to climb. By almost every measure, the situation is getting dreadfully worse, especially for Iraqi civilians.

More than 3,400 Iraqis died in sectarian violence in July, 9 percent more than the previous month. Many of the 110 civilians killed each day in July were tortured and executed by the region's rival religious death squads.

More than 2,600 U.S. troops have been killed and more than 19,000 have been wounded. To date, the war has cost American taxpayers upward of $318 billion.

Even though the president has precious little to offer the overwhelming majority of Americans who disapprove of his handling of the war, the U.S. military has undertaken a candid analysis of what has gone wrong in Iraq. The bottom line: It's hard to win when you're fighting the wrong war.

American forces are trained and equipped to battle large conventional armies using complex weapon systems. Such a "big war" mentality is next to worthless against irregular insurgents hiding within the civilian population.

This strategic disconnect led to a number of crucial mistakes early in the Iraq war. U.S. troops often used too much force when conducting operations in civilian areas and failed to recognize the importance of providing security and safety to the Iraqi people. As a result, Iraqi suspicion and resentment hampered efforts to establish relationships and gather intelligence.

An upcoming revision of the U.S. Army field manual will provide updated tactics for managing a counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency depends on substantially different approaches than conventional operations. A number of complex goals must be pursued simultaneously, even as troops are battling insur- gents.

Society must be rebuilt. Troops have to place a priority on keeping the population safe and boosting the local government's legitimacy. Civilian casualties must be minimized.

"Lose moral legitimacy, lose the war," the Army manual warns.

A vital warning, but it comes too late to recover the moral legitimacy lost at Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Mahmudiyah, Fallujah. Too late to persuade a president not to launch an illegitimate, unwinnable war.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Bush has never defined the U.S. role in Iraq
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 23, 2006
Words:548
Previous Article:LETTERS IN THE EDITOR'S MAILBAG.
Next Article:A matter of notice.
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