A change in Iraq war plans is needed, but no one in the White House can see it

The president's news conference this week was as close to a declaration of policy bankruptcy as anything seen so far in his stewardship of the 3 {-year war in Iraq.

With his poll numbers still down around his ankles and even some key Republicans questioning the wisdom of staying the course in Iraq, President Bush flatly declared there will be no withdrawal of American troops before noon Jan. 20, 2009.

I believe it was Will Rogers who said when you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is quit digging. The president knows he's in a hole and he's still digging furiously and promising he won't quit digging. Ever.

What kind of sense does this make?

We have a corps of fine senior military officers who learned how to adapt to changing circumstances on the battlefield in a realistic computer-generated war game known as Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) for division commanders (two star generals) and corps commanders (three star generals) and their staffs.

They start off with about 20 percent of the intelligence they need and a battle plan that won't survive first contact with the enemy. A couple of days into the exercise the game is halted, temporarily, and the commander stands up in front of everyone and criticizes his own plan and decisions. He enumerates his mistakes—and the BCTP staff is happy to make public note of them.

He redraws his war plan and the game resumes. He has adapted to the bloody reality of any battlefield and made the necessary changes.

But when your commander in chief and your civilian overlords in the Pentagon refuse to acknowledge any mistakes, they thwart all that training and shut off any possibility of positive change and adaptation.

This is precisely what has been going on for all the years of our war in Iraq, and the president and his men can't see their way clear to do what every two-star Army general knows how to do.

Sen. John McCain is a hawk on Iraq. He doesn't believe an American withdrawal will do anything but encourage our enemies around the world. But McCain, who hopes to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, is a realist.

Just a day after Bush put his cards on the table—a busted flush—McCain bemoaned the administration's predictions that the invasion and occupation of Iraq would be "some kind of day at the beach."

McCain, a Navy fighter pilot who spent years in a North Vietnamese prison, recited a devastating litany of ridiculous quotes from Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about the unfolding disaster in Iraq:

"Stuff happens, Mission Accomplished, Last throes, a few dead-enders."

Said the Arizona senator: "It grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."

Had not. Have not. And will not.

Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney: Hear no evil, see no evil, and evil—to paraphrase former Sen. Bob Dole's quip when shown a photograph of Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon standing side by side.

To be sure, the president did indicate that he and the Republicans are not entirely without an Iraq strategy: They will do their best this fall to cast the Democrats as cowards who would "cut and run" for suggesting that we begin drawing down our too-small force in Iraq by year's end. Now that's a refreshing change of view, with Karl Rove's DNA smeared all over it.

The president did admit a certain level of personal frustration with the "violence," a.k.a. civil war, that is raging in Iraq while the democratically elected government we installed stands by and watches a nation shake itself apart.

The answer is not to stay the course, Mr. President, it is to change the course. Adapt to the realities on the battleground. You face a determined Sunni insurgency and, now, a civil war in which revenge killings fill the streets and ditches and river banks with the corpses of Iraqis.

What's needed, and has been desperately needed since the summer of 2003, is a strong counter-insurgency program. And a viable counter-insurgency campaign is police work, not the work of regular Army and Marine troops with Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, artillery and air strikes.

Until we get that simple fact, and act on it, all we are doing when we kill or drag off another presumed insurgent to Abu Ghraib prison is create two more insurgents, or three, or four, or however many there are in that guy's family.

There are people inside and outside our military who know how to do this work well. But until they are free to act on that knowledge the cause in Iraq is lost, lost, lost and the president's words are no more than wasted air.



Joseph L. Galloway is former 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: P.O. Box 399, Bayside, Texas 78340; e-mail: jlgalloway2@cs.com.