Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2003 / 12 Elul, 5763

Jeff Jacoby

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Needed in Iraq: a tougher US hand | Even for me, a charter member of the War Party, it has become impossible to avoid the obvious: The Bush administration is flailing in Iraq. It was a conclusion I had been resisting, but last week's appalling decision to turn for help to the United Nations settled it. The White House has lost its way.

I wish I could convince myself that this is only a feint -- that President Bush doesn't really imagine that the same UN that refused to support the liberation of Iraq is now going to cooperate in keeping it liberated. In his gut, I suspect, Bush still believes what he said in March: "The American people understand that when it comes to our security, if we need to act we will act. And we really don't need the United Nations' approval to do so." But I think he has let himself be persuaded that the ongoing violence in Iraq is proof that the occupation needs to be retooled, and that bringing in the UN can help.

The occupation does need to be retooled. But not with the UN.

For one thing, the Iraqi people are not stupid. They know the UN is not their ally. They know it is dominated by nations that did everything possible to keep Saddam Hussein in power. They know better than to expect anything but cynicism and exploitation from governments that acquiesced in the corruption of the UN's Oil for Food program. And they know that an organization that allows terrorist states like Syria and Libya to preside over its Security Council and Human Rights Commission will not want to see liberty and democracy replace Ba'athist totalitarianism in Iraq.

In any case, going back to the UN means going back to the French and Germans, and they are as hostile to American leadership today as they were before the war. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder have no interest in helping the United States succeed in Iraq. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has already made it clear that France would oppose any deployment of international peacekeepers "unless the political transition in Iraq is placed under the responsibility of the United Nations." To allow that would be to betray the Iraqis. That is a price Bush will not pay.

But if more UN control is not what is needed, what is?

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To begin with, it is crucial to remember the context: We are in the middle of a long war, not in the postlude to a short one. There have been some wrong turns and painful setbacks, but on the whole the war in Iraq has not gone wrong. Many things, in fact, have gone better than could have been expected.

The humanitarian disaster that was predicted never materialized. There was no outbreak of bloodshed between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, or between the majority Shi'ites and the Sunni minority that helped Saddam oppress them. Hospitals are functioning. Shops are filled with goods. Dozens of newspapers are being published. In short, the awful nightmare of the Saddam years has given way to something far closer to normality than most Iraqis have ever known. That is not a small accomplishment.

Yet the Iraq war didn't end with the toppling of Saddam's regime, it only entered a new phase. The objectives are different now, but the US and its allies should be pursuing them with the same ferocity that characterized "Shock and Awe" and the drive to Baghdad. The longer they hold back from doing so, the more difficult the pacification of Iraq is going to be.

For example, the coalition should be relentlessly tracking down the thousands of Saddam loyalists -- Baathist torturers, Republican Guards, Saddam Fedayeen -- who are still at large. It is vital not just that they be rounded up and imprisoned, but that ordinary Iraqis *see* them rounded up and imprisoned. This is no time for due-process delicacy. The war was not won by driving the tyrant from power, and there will be no final victory until his agents are rooted out and crushed.

With equal tenacity, the United States should be sealing off Iraq's borders with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. It is because those borders have been largely uncontrolled that the country has been flooded with terrorists, jihadis, and anti-American saboteurs. Iraq has become the foremost battlefield in the ongoing terror war against the West, yet the coalition has been letting enemy combatants stream in virtually at will.

It is not enough to say, as the American viceroy Paul Bremer did the other day, that occupation authorities "would like to have better control over our borders." Getting thousands of new border guards recruited, trained, and deployed must treated as a life-and-death priority. The failure to do so means continuing attacks on US troops -- and more atrocities like the hideous bombing of a shrine in Najaf last week.

But ultimately we cannot win the war in Iraq until we win the larger and even more critical war outside Iraq. On the second anniversary of the deadliest terror attack in US history, the world's worst sponsors of terrorism remain untouched. The liberation of Iraq was a great step forward. But the war against international terrorism is not close to being won.

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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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