THERE HAS been general agreement in and outside of Iraq for more than a year that security is the country's biggest single problem. The Bush administration has tried to tackle it in various ways -- from training Iraqi police forces to recruiting foreign troops to making deals with former Baathist generals -- and yet the violence worsens. In the wake of Monday's car bombing, which killed the president of Iraq's governing council, senior coalition officials were conceding that the country was close to anarchy. Still, the administration remains curiously and disturbingly unwilling to reconsider its strategy or adopt more dramatic measures.
To be sure, there are no quick fixes, despite the tone of some of the rhetoric in Washington. Many Democrats in Congress, for example, have suggested variations on the theme of handing Iraq over to NATO and the United Nations. We endorsed those ideas a year ago and still like them in principle. But key NATO governments, including France and Germany, remain opposed to any alliance deployment in Iraq, and they command the only substantial reserves of troops that might be made available for such a mission. The United Nations, too, long ago opted out of any large-scale mission. Nor does it seem likely that Middle Eastern states will send forces; Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage told a Senate hearing yesterday that they were "neuralgic" on the subject.
A number of senators, both Democratic and Republican, have called for the dispatch of tens of thousands more U.S. troops, on top of the administration's recent decision to cancel a planned drawdown of 20,000 soldiers. This, too, strikes us as a step that should be tried -- and one the administration is wrong to resist. But more troops will be difficult to muster -- one brigade is already being withdrawn from U.S. forces in South Korea -- and senior officers have said the Army and its reserves already are under severe strain. Nor will Iraqis welcome the deployment of more GIs; any security gains will come at the risk of compounding the anti-American political backlash that helps sustain the insurgents.
The administration clings to its own plans to rapidly train tens of thousands of new Iraqi security forces; Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry agrees but says it should be done better and faster. This, too, should be pursued with more urgency -- but Iraqi units will not solve the security problem anytime soon. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz told the Senate hearing that it might be a year or 18 months before they are fully trained, equipped and organized.
It may be, as pessimists contend, that there is now no way to restore order to Iraq -- that chaos and civil war are inevitable. But we believe a solution may still lie in the aggressive embrace of all the strategies under discussion. Iraq needs more American troops, and more of its own security forces and any other foreign allied troops that can be collected, and it needs them soon, to make possible the staging of elections by early next year.
Only dramatic steps by President Bush will make such reinforcements possible. He must address Congress and the American public and explain why more soldiers must be sent, and how the resulting costs and disruption will be managed. He should agree to a permanent increase in the size of the U.S. Army, which will, at least, mean that there will be relief on the horizon for overtaxed divisions and reserve units. He should publicly and personally appeal to U.S. allies, in Europe and elsewhere, for help in providing the necessary security for elections; an extraordinary summit meeting on Iraq would be one way to do it. Above all, Mr. Bush should make clear that he is prepared to take bold and creative action to improve security in Iraq -- and not just "stay the course."