Iraq: Taking Stock
I’m not a dead-ender on Iraq, but I do think we’ve got to give the new–albeit too-long in coming–strategy time to work. I suspect readers will just breeze on past this post as many, probably most, already have their minds made up. To them, we are frozen in time: the situation in Iraq will always be as it was in November 2006, just before the election. And that’s not a coincidence. The domestic political component of the entire war debate is probably the most troubling to me. Without further (or much) ado–and in addition to Don’s related post–here are some reports/opinions that inform my own current views on Iraq.
First, some historical perspective:
As I’ve said before, Iraq is exactly like Vietnam, except:
* We’ve captured Ho Chi Minh
* We occupy Hanoi
* We’ve helped the Vietnamese draft a Constitution
* We’ve helped the Vietnamese go to the voting booth three times (the first three times ever)
* The new government of Vietnam has tried and executed Ho Chi Minh.
Then there is the contextual, current perspective provided by J.D. Johannes:
In the first month of full implementation – June, 2007 – the “surge” strategy of General David Petraeus resulted in a 32% decline in Iraqi deaths. An anti-al Qaeda alliance of Sunni chiefs, Coalition forces, and the Iraqi Army drove the insurgency out of most of al Anbar, and much of Baghdad.
Over the past three months, I was privileged to observe “surge” operations as a reporter embedded with combat units. I assure my readers: these operations were no mere repetition of the futile “clearing” raids of the past. General David Petraeus has implemented a regimen based on a career-long study of counterinsurgency….But in the flush of battlefield success, public perception of American military progress continued its calamitous decline….What explains the downtick of confidence against a backdrop of success?
Since mid-2005, al Qaeda has aimed not to defeat the Coalition militarily, but to drain American public support politically. The strategy was forced on the insurgents by a string of failures in 2004 and 2005. The Baathist groups and their al Qaeda allies planned first to establish a geographic base of control within Iraq; second, to block Iraqi elections; and third, to prevent the establishment of the Iraqi Security Forces. They failed to achieve any of these goals.
The ensuing strategy was dictated by weakness. Mass killings of Shi’ite civilians…replaced military confrontation as the insurgency’s operational focus….But al Qaeda’s largest harvest from “random slaughter” strategy was realized in America. Through acts of indiscriminate violence transmitted by the media, insurgents brought their war to America’s living rooms. The atrocity-of-the-day is the principal informational input most Americans receive. This forms their knowledge base. The public does not live in the villages and mahalas of Iraq. Patterns of recovery, of normalcy, are not evident.
This is the essence of 4th Generation Warfare. And al Qaeda is clearly winning it….[there is a] growing dichotomy between what is happening in Iraq, and what the public thinks is happening. The Coalition and al Qaeda are fighting two different wars. While General Petraeus strangles the insurgent hydra head-by-head, al Qaeda’s message of slaughter and despair saps the American public of its will.
The political impact of al Qaeda’s media war is all-too-obvious. Not only has the administration lost control of Congress – it has increasingly lost control of its own party.
A congressionally-imposed defeat in Iraq may be averted by a swing in the polls…Alternately, Congress could defy the polls. Al Qaeda is running its war on smoke and mirrors – or, more accurately, on bytes of sound and sight. Congress could act on General Petraeus’ reports from the ground, rather than broadcasts generated by insurgents. This requires a simple commitment – one foreign to many in the elective branch: Leadership.
Don’t hold your breath.
Regardless of why we got into Iraq, it is now a battlefield against terror. Even the terrorists say so. It is in our national interest to do it right and, increasingly, many Iraqi “insurgents” have joined the fight against Al Qaeda. Which brings us to a forward-looking perspective that is more “reality based” than what is coming out of Washington, D.C. these days.
Our sons and daughters are not fighting, being grievously wounded and dying for Iraq — but for American vital interests. If this were just about Iraqi democracy, I might join the screaming for a quick exit.
But if al Qaeda can plausibly claim they drove America out of Iraq (just as they drove the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan), they will gain literally millions of new adherents in their struggle to destroy America and the West. We will then pay in blood, treasure and future wars vastly more than we are paying today to manage and eventually win our struggle in Iraq.
Our staying power, unflinching persistence in the face of adversity, muscular capacity to impose order on chaos and eventual slaughtering of terrorists who are trying to drive us out will do more to win the “hearts and minds” of potentially radical Islamists around the world than all the little sermons about our belief in Islam as the religion of peace. As bin Laden once famously observed — people follow the strong horse.
We have two choices: Use our vast resources to prove we are the strong horse or get ready to be taken to the glue factory.
Even Bush’s war critics who specialize in Middle East affairs (such as the Brookings Institute) believe that the immediate chaos in the Middle East that will follow our premature departure would likely involve not only regional war there, a new base for al Qaeda, but also a nuclear arms race that would quickly result in the world’s most unstable region — which possesses the world’s oil supply — armed with nuclear weapons on a hair trigger.
We can’t wish it away, folks. I’ve said it before: if our military can stand strong, why can’t the rest of us?