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Bush's refusal to face reality

THE INCREASE' of US forces in Iraq that President Bush announced Wednesday night offers practically no chance of thwarting the Sunni Arab insurgency or quelling the sectarian civil war that is turning life there into a nightmarish inferno for Sunnis and Shi'ites alike. The changes Bush proposed reflect a refusal to recognize the durability of the Sunni insurgency and the deeply rooted communal passions that have been loosed.

There is really nothing new about the ''new strategy'' Bush proposed. There were earlier attempts to tamp down the insurgency and the sectarian violence by deploying more US troops to Baghdad, and they failed utterly. A surge of US forces in Baghdad last summer only resulted in a higher death toll. Sunni insurgents did what guerrilla fighters are trained to do - retreat and flow around the foreign forces. All the while, bodies of tortured and murdered civilians were turning up in the streets and garbage dumps of Baghdad, victims of Sunni and Shi'ite death squads, who sometimes wore police uniforms.

With his decision to replicate counterinsurgency tactics that have already proved ineffectual, Bush is disregarding advice from some of his senior military commanders. They have made it plain, publicly as well as privately, that a small, temporary increase in combat troops for Baghdad and Anbar province can achieve nothing worth the anticipated price in

casualties and morale. And the commanders have reason to worry that the regular Army, Reserves, and National Guard are being stressed toward a breaking point.

There may be political and psychological reasons for Bush's refusal to heed the common-sense advice of his generals and of the Iraq Study Group led by former secretary of state James Baker and former congressman Lee Hamilton. He would not be the first US president who wanted to avoid presiding over an unsuccessful war. But Bush also has reason to be fearful of what may happen in Iraq in the aftermath of an American withdrawal.

The governments in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt have been warning the administration that expanded sectarian warfare in Iraq, with large-scale massacres of Sunni Arabs, could draw them, and possibly Turkey, into the conflict. They fear overwhelming refugee flows, a spillover of Sunni-Shi'ite violence to other countries, and vastly expanded Iranian influence from the Gulf region to the Mediterranean. Added to these anxieties is the specter Bush evoked last night of western Iraq becoming a safe haven for jihadist groups seeking to overthrow the secular or insufficiently Islamic regimes of the region.

Bush's invasion and bungled occupation of Iraq brought about these perils. His prolonging of a failed strategy in Iraq looks more and more like a refusal to cope with the looming consequences of his own mistakes.

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