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Perhaps the defense ideologues remain hypnotized by Chalabi because the reality on the ground is so depressing. There will be no stability, and certainly no economic progress, until there is real security--but the three most likely paths toward security have severe drawbacks. The first is increased use of American troops and money. The money is inevitable--a supplemental appropriation of $60 billion, including $15 billion to $20 billion for reconstruction efforts, is being prepared--but more troops are problematic because the Army is already overstretched. The second path is a return to the U.N., which the State Department is trying to negotiate. This would be helpful symbolically--it would be nice to have Iraq become the world vs. the terrorists--and perhaps financially, but it would have limited military utility: State expects only 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers. And a deal will be difficult: the U.N. will agree to American control of the military operations, but not civil administration. "No Bremer," an international diplomat told me. "He's not done very well."
That leaves Iraqification, the third path, which everyone agrees is absolutely necessary. The Pentagon says it is Iraqifying as fast as it can, building no fewer than five indigenous security services that will ultimately involve 70,000 recruits. But far more bodies are needed. Several experts, including some in the Administration, suggest calling the Iraqi army--the ragtag regular army, not the Republican Guard--back to barracks. We are paying 235,000 former Iraqi soldiers to do nothing each month. Why not pay them to be border guards, to provide security for pipelines, power lines and neighborhoods? If they can't do that, why pay them at all?
A Pentagon official told me the idea of reactivating the army is "naive"--which is ironic, given the Pentagon's willful naivete about postwar Iraq. But I suspect that all these options will be attempted in the coming months, lest George W. Bush face the electorate in 2004 as the President who presided over a severe degradation of the U.S. military and the diminution of America's reputation in the world--as the President who lost Iraq.