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A New Tact on Iraq

U.S. forces may redeploy to defend vital enclaves or hunker down while a civil war rages around them. We may claim that the troops are there only to maintain stability in the region or prevent Iranian hegemony. But American forces will be there.

No doubt, this observation will dismay and infuriate those who want a prompt end to the war. It may even be seen as belated, grudging support for those who took us into Iraq and now oppose any timetable for withdrawal. But it is they who will be held accountable for bequeathing America this costly adventure that offers little prospect beyond preventing a worse catastrophe and no easy exit.

Whatever happens in Iraq will not end al Qaeda's terrorist campaign. Nor will unlikely developments like a political settlement in the Palestinian territories, reduced American dependence on Middle East oil, or Washington's public disapproval of undemocratic and corrupt rulers in the Middle East cool jihadist passions.

In its very first sentence, the National Intelligence Estimate optimistically declares: "We judge the U.S. Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years." In fact, we must prepare for a struggle lasting one or two generations.

But whether the jihadist campaign lasts a decade or a half century, it is unlikely to end with any discernible victory. Terrorist campaigns seldom end in either victory or defeat. More often they end with the terrorists, in this case al Qaeda's ideologues, dead or locked in their own dead-end universe and increasingly irrelevant.

Long before then, the words "global war on terror" will likely fade away -- the sooner, the better, hopefully to be replaced by a more focused, realistic and sustainable strategy.

Instead of lumping together the many challenges America faces, this new strategy should take greater cognizance of the unique complexities of each challenge. Above all, what's needed is a sustainable strategy that inspires rather than frightens, and uses facts rather than slogans to win the support of an increasingly fatigued and increasingly cynical home front for the long campaigns to come.

Brian Michael Jenkins is a terrorism expert at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization.

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