Captain Ed has some interesting analysis of the recently-leaked Iraq memo from Donald Rumsfeld. Michelle Malkin also has a fascinating roundup of analyses on the subject.
Rumsfeld clearly saw the need for change in the way we were handling Iraq, and his vision of a new strategy is consistent with his desire for a faster and lighter US military. It’s clear that the training of Iraqi troops has had mixed results – Iraqi units were taking over the battle space, but they weren’t doing a good enough job of holding the territory we’d cleared to keep them from once again become hotspots of terrorist activity. The assumption of the past two years is that as Iraqi units stepped up, we could step down. That hasn’t proven nearly as successful as we’d like, which is why the situation really hasn’t gotten better.
The cold reality of the situation is that there just isn’t much the US can do. Security in Iraq must ultimately be the responsibility of the Iraqi people. We can’t stabilize Iraq, the Iraqis must do so at this point. Right now, the sectarian divisions are stronger than the internal cohesion of the Iraqi government, and until that changes, there’s little we can do short of fighting all sides into submission. Unfortunately, in a postmodern war, that is simply not an option.
I think that Rumsfeld is wrong on most of his analysis in the memo. We can’t abrogate our responsibility to secure Baghdad. We need more troops to do that. Nothing can proceed further unless the security situation is stabilized, and the training of Iraqi troops simply takes too long. Our first priority must be in securing Baghdad, and that means dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism from the ground up. We’re fighting this postmodern war on postmodern terms, assuming that if we hit too hard we’ll lose the Iraqi people. The reality of the situation is that we have already lost the Iraqi people because we’re not doing enough to stop the violence which is keeping them in a state of nearly-permanent fear. You don’t win hearts and minds by sitting on our asses while Baghdad falls into anarchy. To hell with playing nice, now is the time to hunt down the murderous bastards that are ripping Baghdad apart and spray their brains all over the pavement.
We’re in the Middle East. Nobody in the Middle East plays nice. Where Rumsfeld is wrong is that he isn’t Machiavellian enough — the Coalition and the Iraqi government need a clear monopoly of violence in Baghdad. That means that if we find a car-bomb factory, we blow it up. We encourage the civilians around the area to turn the bastards in and get the hell out — and for those who turn the terrorists in, they find that the US will be very generous in replacing what they’ve lost. Those who don’t can enjoy their rubble.
We’ve been pussyfooting around in this war for far too long, trying to apply the pusillanimous techniques of winning “hearts and minds” while blood runs in the streets. The reality is, right now we don’t need to be loved, we need to be feared. The idea that being part of al-Qaeda is anything but a one-way trip to a bloody death needs to end right now. That means putting pressure on the Iraqis to reject terrorism.
We don’t need to be unnecessarily brutal, nor should we. However, unless we get Baghdad under control, we can’t win. In order to do that, we need, as Rumsfeld correctly pointed out, to make all the incentives in the world happen for those who reject terrorism, and all the misery in the world fall upon those who embrace it. That is the only way to win.
I think Jules Crittenden’s criticisms are right on the money. We have been far too timid in prosecuting this war, and our successes have come when we have applied a level of force that made it quite clear that we were not going to lose. Everything in war is about momentum, and right now we have none. It’s time to retake the initiative or face a situation that will be far bloodier on us and the Iraqi people than had we done it right.
Rumsfeld was correct that we needed to transition the American military into a military ready for Soviet tanks pouring down the Fulda Gap to one ready to deal with 21st Century threats. But the reality of the situation is that both types of conflict require the use of massive force. Our military is too small to deal with the realities of 21st Century conflict — and we are going to face many more problems in the future if we fail to expand the military to meet the threats we face.