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September 16, 2003 -- STRATEGY is remarkably like sex: If you fail to choose your partners well, you're in for some nasty surprises; quantity is no substitute for quality; and that which seems expedient tonight may turn ugly and mean by morning. At the moment, the Bush administration is courting some dubious bedfellows.

After prosecuting a just and triumphant war, the administration miscalculated much of the conflict's aftermath. Yet our soldiers pulled the situation together - as they continue to do with increasing success - and President Bush showed the backbone to do what needed doing.

Now he's on the verge of squandering all that our men and women in uniform have gained. For the first time, our president is leaning toward action that appears expedient, rather than sticking to his guns and doing what is strategically, morally and practically sound.

The problem - and it's a huge one -is the recent move to persuade regional Islamic states to augment our forces in Iraq, theoretically letting us bring some of our own troops home without replacing them with more GIs.

This is an act of folly so grave that its repercussions will be far worse than our failure to march on Baghdad at the end of Desert Storm.

The president is listening to political hacks, not his gut instincts. He's been advised against mobilizing National Guard brigades in an election year. And the Rummycrats in the Pentagon are scrambling to "prove" we don't need any more active-duty troops.

The result could be a fiasco.

Yes, well-trained forces from well-intentioned allies would be welcome. But bringing in Turkish, Pakistani or Arab troops virtually guarantees the failure of our efforts to give Iraqis a chance to build a reasonably democratic, rule-of-law state. None of these regional armies, or the states behind them, are impartial, let alone supportive of our efforts. Each country in question yearns for our engagement in Iraq to fail. If their troops enter Iraq, they'll do their best to undermine our efforts.

* The Turks are our enemies, not our friends, when it comes to Iraq's future. After betraying us during the build-up to the war (and price-gouging our forces all the while), the Turks can't see one inch beyond their obsession with depriving the Kurds of freedom. The Turks would much prefer a return to power in Baghdad of the Arab Ba'athists over the emergence of a robust Kurdish state in a federal Iraq. The Turks were happy enough with Saddam, but they've soured on Uncle Sam.

The Turkish sector proposed for the Sunni-Arab center in Iraq would become a safe haven for die-hard Ba'ath Party supporters. And inviting Turkish troops into any part of Iraq would be a disgraceful betrayal of our Kurdish allies. Let's not drop a poisonous snake in the cradle of Iraqi freedom.

* The prospect of a Pakistani sector anywhere in Iraq horrifies liberal Iraqis - those most inclined to work toward real democracy. Having worked with Pakistan's military myself, I know too well that Islamist bigotry permeates its ranks.

And Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency helped the Taliban gain power in Afghanistan. Pakistani elements would work with Islamic extremists to undercut any attempts to establish a secular, popular government.

* Congenitally incompetent, Arab forces would be as worthless as Howard Dean in a fistfight, but they'd do all they could to undermine our efforts and those of progressive Iraqis. No major Arab state wants to see a functioning democracy emerge in Iraq. They don't want a free Iraqi media or decent human-rights practices to set an example for the oppressed in their own countries.

Even a marginally successful democracy in Iraq would undermine the decrepit, villainous regimes, from Riyadh to Damascus to Cairo, which have done so much to retard Arab development.

What is the White House thinking, when it turns to those who opposed our war and supported Saddam Hussein to help us win the peace?

I spent the past week in Germany, speaking with our soldiers, from generals to privates. Some were just returning from Iraq, while others were about to deploy. I did not hear a single complaint about the mission. Even I was surprised by the optimism and commitment of our troops and their leaders. Our soldiers love their work and do it well.

But every soldier, no matter the rank, with whom I raised the subject of Turkish, Pakistani or Arab peacekeepers coming to Iraq agreed it was a crazy, fatal idea.

We can't be a superpower on the cheap. We started this, and we have the wealth, power and troops to finish it. Better to compromise on tax cuts than to compromise on the outcome in Baghdad. If President Bush, acting on foolish advice, transforms victory into defeat in Iraq, the effect upon our security will be worse than that of a hundred Mogadishus.

Our soldiers will do what needs to be done, but they need bold, honest leadership, not election-year philandering by political sluts in Washington. The administration can't afford to "go wobbly" on our strategic mission just because it's worried about losing votes among the National Guard or their employers.

Indeed, the likeliest way for Bush to lose the next election would be to blow it in Iraq by looking for quick fixes that played directly into our enemies' hands. He'd certainly lose my vote - and a mass of votes in our military.

President Bush has to show some backbone as the election campaign approaches. He needs to do what's right, not merely what appears clever to his campaign staff.

Bring the wrong peacekeepers into Iraq, and we'll never have a peace worth keeping.

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