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Posted on Sun, Nov. 02, 2003 

Bush, Rumsfeld still don’t get it

WASHINGTON — A hard dose of reality has rained down like rockets in recent days on the Bush administration, but at least in public, the president and his men and women still don’t seem to get it.

The rocket attack on the al-Rashid Hotel, where the Americans who run Baghdad live, and the rash of suicide car bombings of the Red Cross and Iraqi police stations are not the desperate acts of desperate men, as President Bush declared.

They’re a sign that the enemy, whom the Bush administration has underestimated from the start, is getting better at what it does. The renegade Saddam Hussein loyalists and the foreign Jihadists are becoming more efficient, more creative and more effective at killing Americans and anyone who dares enlist on the side of the Americans.

Far from being a desperate act, the attack on the al-Rashid was almost a graduation ceremony. The people of the night and the back alleys not only built and employed a crude mobile missile launcher but they also succeeded in adapting ground-to-air missiles so they could hit a building from three blocks away.

The rocket blasts, the suicide bombings and the ambushes of Americans with remote-controlled “improvised explosive devices” ought to be a wake-up call.

It’s not the enemy’s strategy and tactics that are failing and desperate; it’s ours.

What these attacks signal is that our current strategy of training a new Iraqi army and police force as quickly as possible — and getting the American troops out of there — isn’t going to work.

“What it means is that we’re stuck,” one senior administration official acknowledged.

Wars are expensive, and postwars even more costly. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to do both on the cheap in Iraq, and it hasn’t worked.

In the end, it’s going to take a sustained American military presence, armed American might, to lend credibility and survivability to the Iraqi police and soldiers we’re hiring and training. It’s going to take years, not months. It’s going to take more American boots on the ground, not fewer — to patrol the borders; protect the pipelines, electrical grid and other infrastructure; and to hunt down the foreign Jihadists and renegade Baathists.

And we’re going to have to outthink, outsmart and outfight those who want to drive us out of Iraq and the rest of the Islamic world.

Without that backup, the Iraqi security forces will crumble under the attacks of the guerrillas and the battle for Iraq will degenerate into the kind of tribal and sectarian bloodbath that overtook Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia. The stage could even be set for a return to power by the fugitive dictator Saddam Hussein or, worse yet, for the creation of an Iranian- or Taliban-style Islamic republic of Iraq.

The attacks made it clear that Bush administration officials have underestimated the enemy in Iraq, both during the war and afterward, and overestimated the ability of American technology to defeat that enemy.

The rash of car bombings in Baghdad were laid at the feet of “foreign fighters,” Jihadists who’ve slipped across Iraq’s borders with Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran — borders that have largely gone unguarded since the war because of a lack of American armored cavalry units to patrol them.

The terrorists, foreign and domestic, certainly don’t lack for the stuff of which bombs are made. There are more than a million tons of munitions — everything from 500-pound bombs to 155mm howitzer shells to rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifle ammunition — crammed in 131 ammo dumps all over Iraq.

American arms inspectors so far have visited only about 35 of those ammo dumps. Few of the dumps have been secured and placed under guard. Apparently, if you need the makings of a car bomb, you can just drive in and help yourself. Why aren’t these stockpiles of explosives secured? Sorry. Not enough Americans on the ground to do the job.

In the wake of a bad couple of days in Baghdad, the president whistled through the graveyard, saying that in his opinion the attacks signal an American success. The secretary of defense was looking for someone else, anyone else, to blame.

At last report, Rumsfeld is once again trying to blame the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA has nearly 300 officers in Iraq, and still they didn’t warn us of the impending attacks.

That argument sounds, well, kind of desperate.

Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best seller “We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young.” Readers may write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 National Press Building, Washington, D.C. 20045.


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