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MILITARY ANALYSIS

Bush strategy lacks clarity, report asserts

Aim of effort against terror found wanting

WASHINGTON -- A newly published US Army War College assessment concludes that more than three years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has failed to define the overall aim of the war on terrorism. The report also warns that the cost of not having a coherent strategy is quickly rising as the insurgency drags on in Iraq.

The analysis, by professor Stephen D. Biddle, a leading researcher at the Army War College, suggests that the United States has failed to apply the necessary resources to match its stated goal of spreading democracy across the Middle East. It says the Bush administration must quickly choose whether to devote more troops and money to the endeavor or else limit the military's objectives and pull back from the region.

''In the three years since 9/11, the administration has yet to arrive at a clear definition of the enemy or the aim in the war on terrorism," says the study, ''American Grand Strategy After 9/11: An Assessment."

''To date, American policy has combined ambitious public statements with ambiguity on critical particulars."

''The costs of pursuing such ambitious but ill-defined goals have been high but tolerable," the report continues. ''The ongoing insurgency in Iraq, however, is increasing the costs . . . to the point where fundamental choices can no longer be deferred."

The assessment, while refraining from recommending any policy changes, offers a penetrating critique of American strategy. The War College, in Carlisle, Pa., is considered the premier institution for educating future military leaders and is known for its often provocative assessments of US military and foreign policy.

The 50-page assessment is being circulated throughout the US government and ''we wish more people would read it," said Carol Kerr, spokeswoman for the college. Three Pentagon officials said they had not read the report, which was posted last week on the Strategic Studies Institute Web page on the War College Internet site, and they did not want to speculate on whether it was stirring debate in government or military circles.

The most important unanswered question, according to the study, is what the desired results should be in countering Islamic terrorism: Is the United States seeking to reduce the level of terrorism to that before 9/11, or is it seeking to prevent even more deadly terrorism that employs weapons of mass destruction?

US leaders face a stark choice, the assessment warns, and they have to make it soon. If they decide that the near elimination of Al Qaeda and its followers is the ultimate goal, they must redouble the American commitment to nation building in Iraq and face the prospect that the United States will have to take on other regimes in the Islamic world that have helped spawn the Islamist movement. The study says the resources being expended for nation building in the Middle East are simply not enough to achieve such a goal.

The other option is to retrench from the ambitious goal of bringing democracy to the Middle East, and instead pursue a policy of ''containment" relying on greater diplomacy. Such a strategy would include expanding efforts in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere to control nuclear, chemical, and biological materials -- limiting their availability for terrorists -- and seeking more cooperation from some of the same undemocratic regimes that helped spawn Al Qaeda's brand of religious extremism.

But the assessment also says that both choices carry risks.

The first could exact a heavy cost in the next decade but could bring long-term security by removing many of the breeding grounds for terrorism. The containment policy, on the other hand, would cost less in the short term but probably not solve the problem over the longer term, effectively leaving in place what Biddle terms the ''wellspring" of Islamic terrorism -- the dictatorships of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, and others.

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com.

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