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May 14, 2007 -- WE sent the world's best military. We spent an enormous amount of money. We "stayed the course." And now it's an open question as to whether we'll lose to savages or pull off a messy compromise success. What went wrong?

The strategic errors of the administration, the pernicious effect of the media and factional hatred within Iraq all played their part. Corruption and al Qaeda's remorseless bloodlust made everything worse. Poor leadership plagued Iraqis and Americans alike.

But the subject presidents, pundits and professors all avoid is what it would take to win militarily. Because the answer's ugly. We prefer to sidestep reality in favor of comfy fantasies that negotiations will persuade blood-drunk murderers to all just get along.

With the last-ditch troop surge in Baghdad, we're half-heartedly trying an approach we should have applied with everything we had in 2003. We no longer have the numbers to do it right - and our leaders, in and out of uniform, may not have the resolve to behave with the ruthlessness required to turn things around.

Even with the surge, our numbers in Baghdad will be "bare bones." We've finally moved our forces down to the neighborhoods, instead of obsessing about "force protection" and bunkering ourselves inside hermetic bases that severed us from Iraq's reality. We finally recognized the need for "precinct stations."

But what we still don't - and won't - have is a constant presence in the streets.

As one patrol returns, another should be heading out, with a third roaming the zone to cover the overlap. And that's the absolute minimum for a one-square-kilometer area.

The problem in this kind of conflict is that the initiative inherently lies with the terrorists and insurgents. We're looking for a limited number of targets: our enemies themselves. Their targets can be anything - a clinic, a school, a marketplace, a roadblock, a gas station or even a mosque. Anything they hit counts as a win.

Our best shot is to keep them on the run, to keep them off balance. But crippling their freedom of action requires that our troops seem to be everywhere at unexpected times. That takes raw numbers.

If, on the other hand, you let the terrorists and insurgents set the tempo, you lose both the support of the population and the war.

Executing such a policy also demands far better intelligence than we've produced in the past - our tactical intelligence has improved notably under the stress of war, but we still have a long way to go.

Above all, we have to maintain a strength of will equal to that of our opponents. War demands consistency, and we're the most fickle great power in history. We must focus on defeating our enemies, brushing aside all other considerations.

At present, we let those other considerations rule our behavior: We overreact to media sensationalism (which our enemies exploit brilliantly); we torment ourselves over the least mistakes our troops make; we delude ourselves that mass murderers have rights; we take prisoners knowing they'll be freed to kill more Americans - and the politicians and Green Zone generals alike pretend that "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."

That's the biggest lie ever told by a human being who wasn't a member of Congress.

Winning is everything. Fighting ruthlessly may not please the safe-at-home moralists, but it's losing that's immoral.

Consider just one of the many issues about which we're insistently naive and hypocritical: torture.

Earlier this month, our Army released the results of an internally initiated survey of soldiers and Marines in Iraq. The results showed that almost half of our troops would condone torture in a specific instance if it saved their buddies' lives.

The media were, of course, appalled. I was shocked, too - surprised that so few of our troops would condone any action that kept their comrades alive.

Torturing prisoners should never be our policy, both because it's immoral and because it's usually ineffective. But it's madness to declare that there can never be exceptions.

Forget the argument about the "ticking bomb" and the terrorist who might have information that could save numerous lives. Let's make it personal.

Whether you're left, right or in between, ask yourself this yes-or-no question: If torturing a known terrorist would save the life of the person you love most in the world, would you approve it?

If your answer is "no," you're not a moral paragon. You're an abomination. And please make your position clear to your husband or wife, mother or father, son or daughter. Just tell 'em, "Sorry, honey, but I'd rather see you dead than mistreat a terrorist. It's a moral issue with me."

There are countless other ways in which we elevate the little immoralities required in war above the supreme immorality of losing. Leftists loved My Lai - they just adored it - but they were never called to account for the communist atrocities after Saigon fell. Pol Pot's butchery was never laid at the feet of the self-righteous bastards who shrieked, "Give peace a chance."

And no one on the left will discuss what might happen if we fail in Iraq. The truth is that they don't care. We face merciless, implacable enemies who joyously slaughter the innocent with the zeal of religious fanaticism. Yet we want to make sure we don't hurt anyone's feelings.

We've tried many things in Iraq. They've all failed. It's a shame we never really tried to fight.

Ralph Peters' most recent book is "Never Quit The Fight."


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Actually, the criminal negligence lies directly at the feet of Donald Rumsfeld and, by extension, the Bush Administration.

Let's just lay aside the pretext for war. I will give Bush a pass on that, even though the intelligence was dubious.

The real problem here is that nobody in the administration gave the first thought to what would happen the day tanks rolled into Baghdad. Nobody considered the civil administration of a conquered country. Nobody considered the complexity of religious and social rivalries. Nobody seemed to have thought at all.

Except the US Military. Members of the Joint Chiefs told Rumsfeld that troop levels were woefully insufficient to successfully occupy the country. Repeated wargaming prior to the invasion showed that the situation would deteriorate into a full-blown insurgency. Eminent administration supports such as Brent Scowcroft predicted today's situation. Generals with long service to their country such as Shinseki were muzzled and retired from the joint chiefs because their professional assessment did not jibe with the administration's rosy beliefs. There was virtually no attention to counterinsurgency and asymmetrical warfare tactics prior to the war, chiefly due to the fantasy that we would only be there a year or so, handing control of a harmonious country over to an elected government.

As it stands, we have a mess on our hands. An absolute mess. A mess that the military did not create, but will ultimately pay for.

That's why Iraq's so hard–Because the complete and absolute failure of the administration to realistically evaluate the mission or to provide the proper number of boots on the ground to begin with. Yet the author of this lamebrained article ascribes the total failure of our mission there to complaints about torture in the media. Go figure. I guess you have to blame somebody, as long as it's not yourself.

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