Now that Gen. Tommy Franks has hung up his soldier suit, one wonders whether he’ll be hailed as a hero or take heavy heat over what’s gone down in Iraq while he was head honcho. Military insiders say Franks might pre-empt the historians with a tell-all that could be devastating to top Pentagon players. Some say the concept for the book depends on which high-paying military-industrial-congressional complex board slots he’s offered versus what the publishers with deep pockets are bidding.

In the meantime, our soldiers in Iraq remain the bull’s-eye in a shooting gallery that gets bloodier as each so-called peacekeeping week explodes into the next. But because newly appointed Gen. John Abizaid is now the High Sheriff in both Afghanistan and Iraq, things might soon take a turn for the better.

Four-star unconventional warrior Abizaid – out of West Point, Ranger School and Harvard – is not only smart and tough, he speaks Arabic and well understands the culture of the Muslim world, where we and this great country of ours are anathemas to many if not most of its inhabitants.

Abizaid, who jumped into Grenada in 1983 with a Ranger unit, is a fighter as well as a thinker. The word is that he understands how to handle guerrillas – folks who served down in the mud with him say he thinks like a G (guerrilla) and well understands that in a guerrilla war, if you’re not winning you’re losing.

Hopefully, the new chief of Central Command will re-evaluate the present flawed strategy, address the consequences and then refocus on destroying the folks who brought us 9-11. We should never forget that our primary national-security objective must always be to prevent major al-Qaida-type terrorist attacks on the USA.

At the same time, we need to convey that we’re into nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq and are not about to cut and run as we did after taking our lumps in Beirut and Somalia. To do this, Abizaid must reinforce the sputtering economy-of-force mission in Afghanistan with more troops and prevent that war-torn country from going further down the toilet while he simultaneously launches a strong counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq to get that nation back on its feet.

Two key planks in a successful counterinsurgency program are U.S. leadership on the ground and a strong Iraqi grass-roots force to fight Saddam’s Baathist plants busily fomenting mayhem and forming guerrilla cells.

But the U.S. ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan – a fine conventional soldier with Patton-like ability when it comes to commanding a tank army – has zip experience in counterinsurgency ops. A good man for the wrong job, he should be replaced ASAP by a Special Forces snake-eater with serious experience being a G, training Gs and fighting Gs.

We must also lean on the world community to immediately send peacekeeping reinforcements to Iraq while Abizaid simultaneously transfers the main burden of fighting the Gs to Iraqi citizens – preferably those who hate the Baathists – just as we successfully did in Vietnam with programs such as the Civilian Irregular Defense Group, Popular Force and Regional Force. Especially since no insurgency has ever been put down without indigenous participation.

The wrongheaded Rumsfeld/Franks plan calls instead for the re-establishment of the Iraqi army. Millions if not billions of U.S. dollars are earmarked for this effort, which will be sheer ecstasy for the same old U.S. contractors who already have their sticky fingers in the taxpayers’ till and the same old U.S. weapons makers who can’t wait to supply this new army with gold-plated gadgets.

But the answer to our soldiers’ prayers isn’t another army built to re-invade Iran or Kuwait sometime down the track.

The grunt-friendly school solution would be more coalition troops supported by local paramilitary units tasked with taking out the Gs – highly motivated freedom fighters drawn from the 20-million-plus Iraqis eager to put a real end to more than 35 years of repression and finally govern themselves in peace and prosperity as a free people.

With this scenario, Iraq can become a true model for the entire Arab world and – as L. Paul Bremer III, the occupation administrator of Iraq, recently said – “a beacon of freedom and justice.”

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