Fareed Zakaria has a very perceptive article on Iraq – the good news is that the insurgency is losing. The bad news is that it is losing in a war of attrition that could go on for some time:
I don’t see how Iraq’s insurgency can win. It lacks the support of at least 80 percent of the country (Shiites and Kurds), and by all accounts lacks the support of the majority of the Sunni population as well. It has no positive agenda, no charismatic leader, virtually no territory of its own, and no great power suppliers. That’s why parallels to Vietnam and Algeria don’t make sense. But despite all these obstacles, the insurgents launched 700 attacks against U.S. forces last month, the highest number since the invasion.
They are getting more sophisticated, now using shaped charges, which concentrate the blast of a bomb, and infrared lasers, which cannot be easily jammed. They kill enough civilians every week that Iraq remains insecure, and electricity, water and oil are still supplied in starts and stops. That’s where things stand in Iraqâ€”it’s a conflict the United States cannot easily lose but also cannot easily win.
Zakaria is right – the situation in Iraq is paradoxical. Politically, things are much better. The central government is becoming stronger, and many Sunni groups are negotiating rather than remaining ostracized from the political process. The new government enjoys widespread popular legitimacy, while the “insurgency” is rightly seen as a bunch of thugs who are killing innocent Iraqis by the score.
At the same time, the terrorist’s operational tempo is undeniably increasing. The number of attacks have skyrocketed, and while we’ve certainly made it more difficult, the smuggling passages along the Euphrates have merely been disrupted, not destroyed. The violence in Iraq is undeniably increasing, and the news is filled with the latest terrorist attack – the latest attack hitting a police station in Mosul.
Despite all of this, the endgame in Iraq remains the same. Secretary Rumsfeld is being rather pessimistic when he argues that the insurgency could go on for years. It could, but eventually it will be fought by the Iraqis, and the Iraqis aren’t as politically correct as we are. Fighting and defeating an insurgency requires fighting dirty – and while we cannot, the Iraqis certainly can. The goal in Iraq is to be able to get Iraqi forces sufficiently trained and ready to take on the fighting themselves. Already the Iraqis are making progress towards that end.
Zakaria is right – we are winning this war, but it’s a victory in slow-motion. The ferocity of the fighting is largely due to the fact that the insurgents see the endgame of this war better than we do – time is not on their side. While Zakaria argues that Iraq is proving to be a laboratory for terrorism, he forgets that at the same the coalition and the Iraqi forces are also learning how to fight an effective war against the insurgency.
Were the insurgency to command more support, the situation in Iraq would be dire. However, the popular sentiment in Iraq remains with the government and for a system in which Iraqis can have basic services and no longer fear terrorism. The insurgency has lost the war for hearts and minds in Iraq, which is the most critical defeat we’ve delivered.
It is imperative that we continue to stay the course in Iraq. The insurgency may last some time, but there’s no reason to suspect that we’ll be the primary force against it for all that much longer. The end goal of this war has always to leave Iraq self-sustaining, and part of that means having the Iraqi military take over the duty of providing security. With the addition of the well-trained and effective Kurdish peshmerga to the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Army is become more effective and larger with each passing day.
We’re in the most difficult part of the war – an extended cleanup operation that continues to stretch our resources and our resolve. However, we’ve made too much progress and the costs of failure are too high to even consider a withdrawal until the job is finished. Whether or not Iraq was central to the larger war before is now an academic exercise – it unquestionably is now, and we dare not hand al-Qaeda victory by throwing our newfound allies to the wolves before they’re ready to defend themselves.