Double Down, Don’t Cut And Run

Bill Stuntz has an excellent piece in The Weekly Standard that takes the conventional wisdom on Iraq to task and asks what we really need to do to win:

A seemingly quick and easy military victory has turned sour. The costs, in blood and treasure, have escalated. Victory looks uncertain and distant. It seems the time has come, if not to cut and run, then surely to cut our losses. If ever the principle of sunk cost applied to warfare, it would seem to apply here.

But that instinct is wrong. Warfare is not like investment banking. At precisely the moment an economist might say to stop throwing good money after bad, a wise military strategist might say to double the bet.

Why might that be so? For one thing, willingness to raise the stakes often wins the game. Why do insurgent gangs, who have vastly smaller resources and manpower than the American soldiers they fight, continue to try to kill those soldiers? The answer is, because they believe they only have to kill a few more, and the soldiers will leave. They need not inflict a military defeat (which would be impossible, given the strength of the American military)–all they need to do is survive until American voters decide to throw in the towel, which might happen at any moment.

The enemy knows that they can’t win on the battlefield — as bad as our casualties are, theirs are orders of magnitude higher. That’s never been their goal. Our enemy knows that if they can force the American people to lose their faith in the war, as they did with Vietnam, their victory is assured. And surely enough, we’re falling right into their hands. Those who have studied the plans of the enemy understand this: our chattering classes do not. We’re about to hand al-Qaeda the greatest victory that they have ever had: we’re about to ensure that terrorism becomes even more emboldened in the years to come.

What’s even more disheartening is that even the Bush Administration is getting in on the game. If President Bush announces that he intends to follow the Democrat’s plan for disaster and pull out troops on an arbitrary timetable, he’ll destroy the Republican Party. We cannot afford the price of failure in Iraq — while the current cost seems great, it is nothing compared to what we’ll face when Iraq becomes a petri dish for terrorism.

Senator McCain is right — we need more troops in Iraq to pacify Baghdad and help set the conditions where the Iraqis can take the initiative again. As Prof. Stuntz continues:

Counterinsurgency warfare is more about protecting than killing–like a nationwide exercise in community policing. And the lesson of the 1990s in American cities is that the best way to reduce the level of criminal violence is to put more cops on the street. The lesson of the past three years in Iraq is the same: If the goal is to cut our losses, the best move is not to pull back, but to dive in–flood the zone, put as many boots as possible on the most violent ground. Do that, and before long, the ground in question will be a good deal less violent.

War is not poker; the stakes in Iraq are much higher than a little money or a few chips. But war’s psychology bears some resemblance to a well-played game of cards. The only way Americans lose this war is to fold. That seems likely to be the next move, but it is the last thing we should do. Far better to call and raise. Our cards are better than theirs, if only we have the nerve to play them.

If we once again telegraph our weakness to the terrorists, their next move will be to raise the stakes in Afghanistan, and push us out there. It won’t be long before the American homeland will come under attack again — no matter how much we spend, we cannot guarantee that we’ll stop every terrorist attack. As the Democrats dismantle the NSA wiretapping networks and further hinder our ability to fight back on the domestic front, we’re headed on a path towards defeat.

If Baghdad looks bad today, just imagine when that level of violence starts hitting our shores. Our enemy has a finite amount of resources to commit to battle — every day they lose fighting an ultimately hopeless battle in Iraq is a day that can’t devote those resources to causing trouble elsewhere. If we free up the battlespace in Iraq, those resources will be dedicated to attacking our interests here and abroad — we dare not allow that to happen.

Prof. Stuntz is right — our best bet is to secure the situation, and that requires more boots on the ground. If we don’t have the guts to finish the job in Iraq, then we will face even larger problems in the future. Now is not the time to cut and run, but to put our cards down on the table and defeat our enemy. If we fail to do so, they will quickly learn the lesson that they can easily cause us to fold just by raising the stakes enough. That is not the message we want to be sending to our enemies at this time of upheaval.

3 thoughts on “Double Down, Don’t Cut And Run

  1. Hi, Jay. Here’s a Democrat who agrees that it would be silly to pull out now. And not because it would “embolden the terrorists,” but because we got into this mess and we have to leave Iraq better than how we entered it. However, we obviously need a new strategy; remember the classic definition of insanity. And given the sectarian nature of Iraqi society, whatever strategy we choose will be long and costly, and require Iraqis to completely reorient their heads and hearts toward each other.

    I am also a civil libertarian insofar that I am willing to accept a minimal level of risk in my life if the government would stop spying on us and make routine tasks, like travel, less onerous.

    Finally, I truly hope that you do not view as Democrats as unpatriotic or cowards. All Americans want to live safely, and I think we need to assume that people of all political persuasions–Republican, Democrat, independent, Green, etc.–have the sincerest of intentions and want only the best for America.

    /end of ramble

  2. No one wants to see our forces wounded or killed and a course correction (not a swift exit) with Iraq might be in order. Regarding ‘spying’, perhaps if we had a better handle on aliens in this country, we wouldn’t need to be eavesdropping on those who make overseas phone calls.

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