The U.S. Senate recommends that Iraq be converted into a loose confederation of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Although well intentioned, it is a bad idea. Confederations are prone to fail, as colonial Americans learned after their insurgency against British rule. The Senate would be more helpful by initiating legislation to prohibit U.S. personnel in Iraq from engaging in nation-building or policing. This conclusion arises from my 40 years of close study of the Middle East, 18 of them on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress.

Iraq is better off without our guidance in local politics. During four pre-war trips to Baghdad, I learned that Iraq has many well-educated citizens of great competence--local scholars, government officials, business leaders, and average citizens. They understand the complexity of local society and have the skill, I believe, to build a strong central government that can satisfy Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions. Some who fled the present chaos will return when Iraqis are allowed to undertake nation-building on their own.

Advice from Washington must be near the bottom of the Iraqis wish list. How could they be eager for advice from the government that led them into the present mess? It is a sign of meddling, if not arrogance, for the U.S. government to pretend to have answers for a society that has had great universities and introduced the rule of law centuries before the U.S. government came into being and in recent years has suffered under Western as well as Ottoman colonial rule.

Terrorism against unwelcome foreign troops is nothing new. Despite the cautious, misleading optimism recently expressed by General David Petraeus, the Iraqi scene is no brighter than a year ago. Casualties [dead plus those wounded seriously enough for hospitalization] and the number of violent outbreaks remain the same, and civilian life is still miserable and dangerous.

The Iraqi government is lethargic, to say the least. It is widely viewed as a puppet of Washington and the U.S. military forces as unwelcome foreign occupiers. Present signs suggest a massive, long-term U.S. presence. Our 2,000-plus diplomats there will soon be housed in the world’s largest embassy. A dozen U.S. military bases in Iraq have the air of permanence. U.S. administration officials and generals speak openly about “needing to stay” for years.

We cannot expect local citizens to be content with the prospect that Washington will control for years to come the activities in Iraq of two large groups of powerful U.S. employees: first, thousands of troops now engaged in combat and policing; second, several thousand bureaucrats tasked with guiding Iraqis employed in governmental responsibilities.

No wonder insurrection continues. History suggests that the insurgents in Iraq will ultimately prevail, no matter how many troops the United States sends into combat. The present U.S. course is hopeless, reminiscent of the Vietnam ordeal, an earlier insurgency that, as a Member of Congress, I observed closely from start to finish. The glimmer of hope Petraeus claims to see a few years down the road is a dim reflection of the “light at the end of the tunnel” that President Lyndon B. Johnson lured Congress into believing 40 years ago. Years later in Vietnam, and thousands of U.S. lives later, the remnants of President Gerald Ford’s mission left Saigon in a panicky scramble aboard helicopters launched from the roof of the U.S. embassy.

Is a similar nightmare ahead for President Bush or his successor? It can be avoided, I believe, if Bush quickly accepts the reality that no surge in U.S. forces can conquer the insurgency.

He should take these immediate steps:

1. Stop U.S. participation in policing and military combat. No more U.S. bombing of ”suspected insurgent bases”; no more helicopter assaults; no more kicking in doors and terrorizing Iraqi families. Restrict U.S. military forces to these tasks: protection of American official personnel, military and civilian; training of Iraqi security forces; and humanitarian assistance anywhere in the country side. U.S. forces in Iraq were at their best recently when they helped victims of an earthquake.

2. Get out of Iraq’s politics. Cut the U.S. diplomatic mission in Baghdad to normal size, about 30 diplomats.

3. Pledge in unambiguous language the total withdrawal of U.S. military forces and all U.S. contractors when an Iraqi government controls the country.

While these steps do not entail full immediate withdrawal, they offer has important advantages. No one can properly accuse the administration with abandoning Iraq. The cessation of U.S. policing and combat will permit a quick reduction in total U.S. forces and likely reduce all casualties. Taken together, the steps should moderate anti-U.S. passions and the grave fear that U.S. combat operations may expand into Iran and spiral downward into an horrific clash between Islam and Christianity.

If Bush acts now, the Iraqi scene has a chance to improve vastly by the time he leaves office.

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