“Bring ’em on,” President Bush announced a few months ago, and America’s opponents have since brought on ever more death and destruction.  Luckily for the President, he lives behind the White House fence, surrounded by a vigilant Secret Service detail.  Not so fortunate were the 16 Americans killed in the downing of the Chinook helicopter, or the half-dozen who died in the subsequent shootdown of the Black Hawk chopper, or the others killed routinely by bombs and bullets.

Rep. George Nethercutt (R-WA) will undoubtedly remind us, as he said only a few weeks ago, that what’s going on in Iraq is “a bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.”  Thankfully, he emphasized that the deaths were “awful.”  Still, he might want to wait with the good news until after the funerals.

In fact, even the administration seems to be abandoning its “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” policy.  In early November, the White House yanked Iraqi administrator Paul Bremer back to Washington for urgent consultations and announced that more authority would quickly be turned over to Iraqis—apparently through the unloved, much-disdained Iraqi Governing Council.

Alas, there is not much time: A recent CIA report warns that average Iraqis are losing faith in the United States and gravitating toward the insurgency.  The consequence is American blood flowing every day in Iraq.  Combat deaths since President Bush’s declaration of peace on May 1 significantly exceed those sustained during the war.  More than twice as many U.S. soldiers have been injured—at this writing, about 1,200—since the President informed us that the war was over than during the actual conflict.

There is little reason to believe that casualty levels will begin to fall any time soon.  The President’s decision to invade Iraq has put America in the middle of an increasingly complicated conflict, one that mixes elements of guerrilla operations (Iraqis versus Americans), terrorism (outsiders versus Americans), and civil war (Iraqis versus Iraqis).  While Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed neither an imminent nor a serious threat to the United States—a majority of Americans now believe that the Bush administration went to war precipitously—occupied Iraq has become a fulcrum of conflict for the United States.

Some of the strongest supporters of the war have deluded themselves into believing that fighting terrorists in Iraq somehow keeps them out of America.  Even columnist William Murchison opines that one can “rejoice that the war goes on in Iraq, not on Manhattan Island or in Manhattan, Kansas.”

Yet the guerrillas, certainly, and many of the terrorists, probably, are active in Iraq because America is occupying Iraq.  Most of them could never get to, let alone operate in, the United States even if they wanted to.

On the contrary, by creating both a new grievance against the United States and a nearby battleground, the occupation has allowed America’s enemies to open an entirely new front against her.  The International Institute for Strategic Studies warns that “war in Iraq has probably inflamed radical passions among Muslims and thus increased Al Qaeda’s recruiting power and morale and, at least marginally, its operating capability.”

The progress made by the United States in restoring public services will not end this war.  Attacks have been increasing in number and spreading outside of the so-called Sunni triangle.

Before the Chinook attack, coalition commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez admitted that “The enemy has evolved—a little bit more lethal, a little more complex, a little more sophisticated, and in some cases, a little bit more tenacious.”   Moreover, polls suggest that Iraqi attitudes toward the United States are much more equivocal than the Bush administration acknowledges.  Most Iraqis are glad Saddam has been deposed, and a majority support the presence of U.S. troops.  Nonetheless, a plurality say they do not like America; a majority do not believe that Western-style democracy will work.  Two thirds say they feel occupied rather than liberated, a feeling that has increased sharply since the end of the war.

Tough allied military operations risk turning off not just individual Iraqis but families and entire clans.  After a bombing attack in the city of Fallujah just days before the Chinook attack, American soldiers mistakenly fired on a minivan, killing six civilians.  Alas, said one reservist Marine who recently returned from duty in Iraq, Iraqis are no longer patient with such mistakes.

Turning increasing authority over to Iraqis might help to diminish antagonism toward Washington; then, however, expectations are likely to rise and might be difficult to meet.  And a truly democratic government might ask U.S. forces to leave.  Even the pliant Iraqi Governing Council has strongly opposed introducing troops from Turkey as part of the occupying garrison.

Political revolutions depend more on intensity than on numbers.  A minority that is active will likely win over a majority that is inert.  Washington’s challenge is to enlist average Iraqis in the increasingly bitter military struggle.

Having gotten the United States into an unnecessary mess, the President is reluctant to get the country out.  He may finally believe that authority should be turned over more quickly to Iraqis, but, he declared, “America will never run.”

Of course, no one wants to show weakness by leaving.  Yet to ask American soldiers to die to preserve credibility unnecessarily placed on the line is horrible.  The Bush administration has launched a p.r. offensive and banned coverage of coffins returning to America.  That will not stop them from coming, however.

Washington must hold elections, oversee the drafting of a constitution, turn over authority to responsible Iraqis, leave security duties to Iraqi organizations, and withdraw its forces—and do so quickly.

The result might not be pretty—conflict among the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis is likely.  It is better, however, that the United States be out of any such fight.  America needs to insist not on Western-style politics but simply on abstinence from involvement in terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

The President should change his challenge.  It should no longer be “Bring ’em on” to the terrorists.  It should be “Bring ’em home”—to our troops.