Remember "Groundhog Day," with Bill Murray? He played a TV weatherman, doomed to live the same day, Groundhog Day, over and over again. As this odd summer slowly winds down, I feel a bit like Murray. I've been here before.

             Take the tunnel in Iraq, already filled with military and intelligence analysts by the hundreds reporting that there's light somewhere up ahead. Here, for example, is Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and on his better days, nobody's fool.

             On Washington's carousel, Cordesman is a prominent fixture. The Center is the prime Republican think tank on K Street, where an elevator ride can confront you with museum pieces stretching all the way back to Reagan's first National Security Council adviser, Richard Allen. Cordesman has held down big jobs in the Defense and Energy departments, has served as Senator John McCain's national security assistant and strides confidently before the cameras whenever ABC News summons him for analysis and commentary.

             Last Dec. 3, from all his dignity as the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, Cordesman issued a "rough draft" memo that derided Operation Oust Saddam as the recipe for a bloody mess. Title of paper: "Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound: U.S. Policy to Shape a Post-Saddam Iraq." Theme: Operation Oust Saddam is an "uncoordinated and faltering effort." "We face an Arab world where many see us as going to war to seize Iraq's oil, barter deals with the Russians and French, create a new military base to dominate the region, and/or serve Israel's interest ... We may well face a much more hostile population than in Afghanistan. We badly need to consider the Lebanon model: Hero to enemy in less than a year." (He was wrong here, of course. In Iraq it took less than a week.) The Iraqi National Congress, he sneered, was far stronger inside the Washington Beltway than in Iraq. Most of the existing structure of the Iraqi government was "vital." Iraq "is not going to become a model government or democracy for years."

             It didn't take long to run through Cordesman's 11 pages, and the momentum of the argument was clear enough, as clear as the same arguments were to Bush the Elder and his advisers back in 1991: Why get deeper into this mess? Let Saddam keep his security forces intact and butcher the Shiites. Offer protection to the Kurds, and let the place stew under the weight of sanctions.

             Now, here comes Cordesman again, with another memo fresh minted after a tour of inspection in Iraq. He titles it: "What is Next in Iraq? Military Developments, Military Requirements and Armed Nation Building."

            Cordesman starts by announcing, "It now seems likely that the United States will face some form of low intensity conflict in Iraq for at least 6-12 more months." U.S. military and intelligence personnel in Iraq "(a) admit on background that they have no real numbers and the situation is constantly evolving, (b) see some kind of loose regional coordination but cannot identify its scale and structure with any detail, (c) see the Iraqi threat as still more pro-Saddam and Ba'athist than Islamic but note there is no clear separation between the groups, (d) see a loose structure of cooperation between diverse groups that do not share a common agenda other than anger or hatred of the United States and secular change, (e) see growing numbers of young Sunni Iraqis entering the opposition as part of a postwar reaction to the U.S. failures in nation building . "

             So is the answer more U.S. Army forces? Cordesman says there simply aren't that many available, they would take months to train, and there are severe budgetary constraints.

             What about the current bipartisan efforts in Washington, delayed by the terminal departure from Baghdad in a vertical direction of U.N. Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello, to draft in U.N. forces to provide political cover and security manpower? "War and armed nation . require focused and coordinated efforts that cannot be run by a giant committee or carried out by inexperienced troops."

             Cordesman points derisively at the current assemblage of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq, involving 31 countries with troops there or getting there soon, with 11,000 from the U.K., 2,400 from Poland, 1,800 from the Ukraine, 1,300 from Spain, 1,130 from Italy and 1,100 from the Netherlands. The other 25 countries have 24 different languages, lack standardized communications, and generally require U.S. logistic and transportation support.

             This is where we begin to feel like Bill Murray. What does Cordesman offers as the way forward? It boils down to the traditional "nation-building" mix: a blend of the Phoenix program and Vietnamization.

             Let Cordesman say the words, and you can whistle the tune.

             "The United States must seek to win as quickly as possible, and it cannot win in Iraq by fighting on the defense ... Unless it can hunt down and seize or kill the opposition, however, it will always see new successful hard return attacks and sabotage.

             "The key to winning in this offensive mission is not numbers, but intelligence, skilled cadres of expert troops, area and language specialists, mixed with constant civic action, and political warfare to win heats and minds .

             "Winning hearts and minds means putting Iraqis in charge as fast as possible even at the cost of political compromises and problems in efficiency. "In Iraq, 'cost-effectiveness' will be a synonym for defeat, and doing things on the cheap will be a recipe for constant vulnerability. 'Win through waste' has always been the secret American recipe for victory; it will be in this case as well."

            In other words, recruit death squads from the Iraqis, rehire all the old torturers (they already are, up to the rank of major from Saddam's old Mukhabarat), and then let the Sunnis restore the old police state. You can bet that Cordesman, who has a sensitive nostril for which sewage pool the political winds on Washington are wafting over, is relaying the likely shape of things to come.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.