Mario Loyola makes a cogent argument against adding more troops to secure Baghdad. He raises some good points, but ultimately I think that the political solution we need can’t come about in the current circumstances. Our biggest mistake in this war was not establishing a monopoly of violence earlier. We backed off from Fallujah in the spring of 2004, and then we backed off from al-Sadr at the same time. We should have taken Fallujah and crushed the Mahdi Army back then when the stress on our military was less. Each time we’ve had the opportunity to show strength, we’ve failed. Arab culture is an honor/shame culture, and we can’t forget that. A person who shows indecision is regarded as weak, and our vacillations have ensured that we’re not respected or feared in Iraq.
Machiavelli was right — it is better to be feared than to be loved, and right now our enemies regard us as weak. We can’t maneuver politically from such a position of weakness, and neither can the Iraqi government. We can’t play in Iraq under American rules, when in Iraq, you do as the Iraqis do, and that means be willing to show strength and cracking down on the insurgency. Once we’ve established the position that we’re not going to go away until things get fixed, then and only then can the political process move forwards.
Right now, as President Bush has himself admitted, we’re not winning in Iraq. We’re not winning not because Iraq is unwinnable — that’s simply untrue. We’re not winning because we’re not doing enough to win. The terrorists know that our will is extremely weak. They’re succeeding in their propaganda war and their greatest victory is almost within their grasp. All they have to do is keep the pressure on for just long enough and they’ll win what they could never have won using a conventional military approach. They know that the weakness of the American military isn’t in the troops, it’s in the fickle nature of the American public.
All we have to do is ensure that they don’t get their wish. Striking at them harder gives us the momentum, and in war (as in politics), momentum is everything. The reason why many Americans feel we’re losing this war is because we’ve given them no reason to believe it — taking out some high value targets and restoring order in Baghdad would go a long way towards showing that we can win this war.
The consequences of failure are horrendous, which is why we cannot allow the terrorists to gain the upper hand in Iraq. More troops equates to more pressure, even over a short period of time. It won’t be sufficient by itself — we need to take the gloves off all our troops and allow them to inflict serious pain on the enemy, but it’s an important first step towards recapturing the momentum we need.