He and others are recommending a series of related revisions to the U.S. approach.
Like many in the Special Forces, defense consultant Michael Vickers advocates radically trimming the U.S. presence in Iraq, making it much more like the one in Afghanistan, where there are 20,000 troops and almost none in the capital, Kabul. The U.S. military has a small presence in the daily life of Afghans. Basically, it ignores them and focuses its attention on fighting pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda holdouts. Nor has it tried to disarm the militias that control much of the country.
An Apache helicopter flies over a burning car after a two-car convoy came under attack Saturday in Baghdad.
(Khalid Mohammed -- AP)
In addition to trimming the U.S. troop presence, a young Army general said, the United States also should curtail its ambitions in Iraq. "That strategic objective, of a free, democratic, de-Baathified Iraq, is grandiose and unattainable," he said. "It's just a matter of time before we revise downward . . . and abandon these ridiculous objectives."
Instead, he predicted that if the Bush administration wins reelection, it simply will settle for a stable Iraq, probably run by former Iraqi generals. This is more or less, he said, what the Marines Corps did in Fallujah -- which he described as a glimpse of future U.S. policy.
Wolfowitz sharply rejected that conclusion about Fallujah. "Let's be clear, Fallujah has always been an outlier since the liberation of Baghdad," he said in the interview. "It's where the trouble began. . . . It really isn't a model for anything for the rest of the country."
But a senior military intelligence officer experienced in Middle Eastern affairs said he thinks the administration needs to rethink its approach to Iraq and to the region. "The idea that Iraq can be miraculously and quickly turned into a shining example of democracy that will 'transform' the Middle East requires way too much fairy dust and cultural arrogance to believe," he said.
Finally, some are calling for the United States to stop fighting separatist trends among Iraq's three major groups, the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds, and instead embrace them. "The best hope for holding Iraq together -- and thereby avoiding civil war -- is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants," Galbraith wrote last month.
Even if adjustments in troop presence and goals help the United States prevail, it will not happen soon, several of those interviewed said. The United States is likely to be fighting in Iraq for at least another five years, said an Army officer who served there. "We'll be taking casualties," he warned, during that entire time.
A long-term problem for any administration is that it may be difficult for the American public to tell whether the United States is winning or losing, and the prospect of continued casualties may prompt some to ask of how long the public will tolerate the fighting.
"Iraq might have been worth doing at some price," Vickers said. "But it isn't worth doing at any price. And the price has gone very high."
The other key factor in the war is Iraqi public opinion. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that a majority of Iraqis want the United States to leave immediately. "In Iraq, we are rapidly losing the support of the middle, which will enable the insurgency to persist practically indefinitely until our national resolve is worn down," the senior U.S. military intelligence officer said.
Tolerance of the situation in Iraq also appears to be declining within the U.S. military. Especially among career Army officers, an extraordinary anger is building at Rumsfeld and his top advisers.
"Like a lot of senior Army guys, I'm quite angry" with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration, the young general said. He listed two reasons. "One is, I think they are going to break the Army." But what really incites him, he said, is, "I don't think they care."
Jeff Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA who has close ties to many senior officers, said, "Some of my friends in the military are exceedingly angry." In the Army, he said, "It's pretty bitter."
Retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a frequent Pentagon consultant, said, "The people in the military are mad as hell." He said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, should be fired. A spokesman for Myers declined to comment.
A Special Forces officer aimed higher, saying that "Rumsfeld needs to go, as does Wolfowitz."
Asked about such antagonism, Wolfowitz said, "I wish they'd have the -- whatever it takes -- to come tell me to my face."
He said that by contrast, he had been "struck at how many fairly senior officers have come to me" to tell him that he and Rumsfeld have made the right decisions concerning the Army.