Iraq, War On Terror

What Victory Looks Like

ABC News finds that Iraqis are more secure and more supportive of democracy. Security is a necessary prerequisite to any kind of political reconciliation, and it’s now looking like the Iraqi people really do feel more secure. For example, the poll found:

While deep difficulties remain, the advances are remarkable. Eighty-four percent of Iraqis now rate security in their own area positively, nearly double its August 2007 level. Seventy-eight percent say their protection from crime is good, more than double its low. Three-quarters say they can go where they want safely – triple what it’s been.

Few credit the United States, still widely unpopular given the post-invasion violence, and eight in 10 favor its withdrawal on schedule by 2011 – or sooner. But at the same time a new high, 64 percent of Iraqis, now call democracy their preferred form of government.

While it would be nice to be popular in Iraq, what we have achieved through the surge is what needed to be achieved. The goal of the surge: to provide enough security to prevent Iraq from exploding was met. The surge worked. It not only created a more secure Iraq, but thanks to our willingness to work with all sides, it has dramatically reduced sectarian tensions. The surge did exactly what it was supposed to do, and it represents one of the most important military turnarounds in the history of counterinsurgency. Future military leaders will be studying the tactics of great military minds like Gen. Petraeus and Col. H.R. McMaster for years to come.

Now, imagine an alternate scenario where John Kerry was elected President in 2004. He would have pulled U.S. troops from Iraq, leaving the country defenseless. An Iraqi civil war would have been inevitable. The Iraqi Shi’a would have looked to Iran for protection from al-Qaeda. Iraqi Sunnis would have banded either with al-Qaeda or looked to the Saudis and other fellow Sunnis for protection from the Iranians. The Kurds in the north would be fighting a pitched battle against both al-Qaeda and Iran.

For all the talk about how terrible a war Iraq was, it could have been much worse. Had Kerry been elected, it almost certainly would have.

Had now-Vice President Biden gotten his way and split Iraq down sectarian lines, the result would have been much the same. Iraq would be divided, and soon conquered.

Biden, now-Secretary of State Clinton, President Obama, Sen. Reid, Rep. Pelosi, all of them were wrong on Iraq. None of the advances that have been made in the past two years would have happened had they gotten their way. There should be a lesson in that.

Iraq still has a long period of transition. Other, more mundane problems like corruption and government efficiency still pose a threat to its future. But the days when terrorists threatened to destabilize the country are now over—and if we continue to meet our commitments to the Iraqi people and continue to train their military and government leaders, those terrible days will be over forever.

But peace is a tenuous thing. If Obama withdraws American troops in an irresponsible manner, the gains we’ve made could be lost as al-Qaeda, the Sadrists, or other groups exploit the vacuum. We must withdraw with full cognizance of the situation on the ground and be prepared to alter our timetable as necessary.

We have won in Iraq, and we should not ignore the lessons we have learned. Future conflicts in the 21st Century will look much like the one in Iraq, and we must be prepared to fight them—and we must also be willing to learn that the model of Iraq may not fit elsewhere as easily. What we need in Afghanistan is the same kind of visionary leadership that we had on the ground in Iraq as well as a political structure back home that will listen to them. President Obama should learn from President Bush’s mistakes and understand that the path to victory should be dictated by the theater of battle, not the politics of Washington.

Campaign 2008, Idiotarianism, Politics, War On Terror

Obama: The Surge Was A Failure, Let’s Do Another

Sen. (not President, despite the way he is carrying his campaign) Obama’s position on the surge still does not make a great deal of sense. As with everything Obama says or does, what really matters is not consistency, logic, or good policy, but cheap politics.

First, Obama can’t deny that the surge has produced results. It clearly has. The violence in “unwinnable” Iraq is now down, and the gains that have been made are finally on a solid foundation.

What did Sen. Obama say about the surge?

We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality, uh, we can send 15,000 more troops; 20,000 more troops; 30,000 more troops. Uh, I don’t know any, uh, expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to, uh, privately that believes that that is gonna make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.

He also made this remark:

I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.

That was January of 2007. Later that year, Obama said this:

Here’s what we know. The surge has not worked. And they said today, ‘Well, even in September, we’re going to need more time.’ So we’re going to kick this can all the way down to the next president, under the president’s plan.

There’s no doubt that throughout 2007, when Sen. McCain was risking his political future in supporting the surge, Sen. Obama held the position that the surge would not, and could not, work. Now Obama has had to scramble away from that position in recent days. His position that even knowing what he knows now, he would not support the surge is preposterous—and by his own words is based on his dislike of Bush rather than substantive reasoning.

His statement to ABC News’ Terry Moran was that he would still be against the surge because “we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one I just disagreed with” is childish. His argument is that since he disagrees with Bush, he would do the opposite of what Bush did even if what Bush did was actually effective. It is tempting to remind Sen. Obama that Bush was elected President in the hope that he’d drop out of the race and spare us from more of his endless political vanity.

There is a reason why the surge worked. It worked because security is absolutely necessary for political compromise. The Sunnis and Sh’ia could never make political concessions when they had every reason to fear each other. You can’t have political compromise when the parties are trying to kill each other. That such a concept is radical to some is a little distressing and shows how political rhetoric has become so divorced from thinking about the real world. The surge worked because it helped restore order. Obama’s plan would have failed because it would have put the cart before the horse in terms. Pushing for political compromise would have been foolish when the Sh’ia feared al-Qaeda and the Sunnis feared the Sadrists. People don’t tend to make deals with people that they think are going to kill them.

If logic isn’t enough, that Obama is endorsing a virtual replay of the surge in Afghanistan should make it clear. To be fair, Afghanistan is not quite like Iraq. It has never been a truly “modern” country, and while it has had moments of peace, for most of its history it has been a place wracked with violent conflict. Obama’s strategy of replaying the surge in Afghanistan is probably the right call, but there is no reason to believe that Afghanistan is truly the central front in this war. Al-Qaeda isn’t in Afghanistan, they are hiding next door in Pakistan, where we cannot go.

If the surge supposedly didn’t really do the job in Iraq, why should it work in Afghanistan? The Afghan government is weaker than Al-Maliki’s. President Karzai has little effective control outside Kabul, and there’s no reason for many of the distant tribes outside the cities to submit to him. Afghanistan is a tribal state, not a democracy, and it will be generations (if not longer) before that will change. Defeating the Taliban is a good thing, but that doesn’t help us fight al-Qaeda, which is a different group entirely.

Don’t expect answers from the Obama camp. More vague platitudes about “hope” and “change” are enough to pack in the throngs of admirers, and that’s all he will deliver. With Obama, style and ambition continue to trump substance, and like Bill Clinton what matters is not what the best policy is, but what does the most to stroke the ego of the candidate. That kind of feckless egotism was fatal to American interests throughout the 1990 as al-Qaeda metastasized, Pakistan got the bomb, and America’s enemies saw us as a venal paper tiger. They say that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A President who fails to learn from history can doom us all.

Iraq, Politics, War On Terror

As Iraq Lifts Itself Up, Some Stick To The Script

Even as terrorists try to their best to sow fear, the signs of a major turnaround in Iraq continue as the inertia in the conflict now favors stability rather than violence.

Al-Anbar Province, once the center of violence in Iraq and a pipeline for terrorists, guns, and money is now a place of relative tranquility. The reason is simple: US resolve helped empower Iraqis to fight terrorism:

The U.S. military assault on Fallujah in 2004 yielded a significant U.S. victory both in moral and tactical terms, David Bellavia, a former staff sergeant with the U.S. Army who served with the First Infantry Division for six years, said in an interview.

“I call it my generation’s Normandy because it identified for the enemy what the American fighting man was all about,” he said. “They completely underestimated us and had this idea that because we couldn’t use our technology, we wouldn’t have intestinal fortitude to see the battle through, but this is what ultimately delivered us.”

In 2005, Bellavia received the Conspicuous Service Cross, the highest award for military valor in New York state. He is also the author of “House to House,” which chronicles the Battle of Fallujah in graphic detail.

The Rumsfeld strategy, while based on a sound premise, was ultimately based on the wrong premise. The worry was that more troops would mean more casualties, which emphasized the worries of American politicians rather than what really mattered—the security of Iraqi civilians. Even during the darkest days of the war, brave and resourceful military commanders like Col. H.R. McMaster were developing the tactics to fight and win in Iraq. In Fallujah, we demonstrated that we would not back down. That lesson was brought home time and time again, until finally the Iraqis started joining our side. Once that began to happen in a significant fashion, al-Qaeda was damned.

This ABC News report puts the usual spin on the good news: sure, violence is down, but will it last. What the media, Sen. Obama, and the rest of the antiwar partisans fail to understand is that the reduction in violence is the direct result of our fortitude on Iraq. For all of the President’s legion of faults, especially in the conduct of this war, his stubbornness may have saved Iraq from a humanitarian nightmare that would make Darfur look like nothing. His stubbornness and our military’s skill, combined with the bravery of the Iraqi people have paid off with a great peace dividend.

This peace will last so long as national reconciliation is in the interest of all the parties. The Sunnis are outnumbered. They tried violent resistance and were nearly ethnically cleansed. The Shi’ites also know that violence does not help them. They have political leverage, and because of that they have the most to lose if Iraq flies apart. They may have the numeric superiority, but if they start a civil war, the Sunnis will end up back in bed with al-Qaeda, and even if the Shi’ites win, it will be at a great cost, and would cause Iraq to fall into the hands of the Iranians. Iraqi and Iranians share a common religion, but nothing else.

Iraq can be peaceful, not because of some noble ambition, but because of enlightened self interest—and that is the most powerful force in the universe.

Yet all this could be undone by a public more interested in bread and circuses than world peace. The Democratic Party, by playing to the basest isolationist and xenophobic interests, is threatening the progress that has been made. A premature withdrawal from Iraq would undermine all this progress. If the US leaves, the Iraqis cannot yet keep the peace. A US presence is a necessity to provide the Iraqis with the security needed for progress. The argument that the US presence somehow undermines Iraq’s progress is ridiculous on its face—Iraq has made great political progress, and that progress is only possible because the Iraqis have security. If the Iraqi people cannot be secure in their homes, how can they possibly be expected to trust each other? I, for one, would love to see Sen. Obama spin his way out of that question.

Contrary to the ignorant and arrogant arguments that Iraqis are not pulling their weight, they are making great strides towards restoring the greatness of the nation of Iraq. Day by day, the Iraqis that work towards the betterment of their nation and fight against terror bring Iraq closer to the days when Baghdad can once again be a center of learning and commerce and a great world city.

We in America must never belittle their sacrifice. In a spirit of solidarity, we must continue to support our Iraqi allies in their fight against terror and oppression. Instead of giving them up, we should continue to support their struggles—after all, we were once a struggling young power as well.

It is fair to ask what we are fighting for. What we are fighting for in Iraq is this: that one day a joint US-Iraqi biotechnology venture can discover a cure for cancer, AIDS, or another terrible affliction. That some day, in a place like Darfur, US and Iraqi peacekeepers can work alongside each other again to restore another war-shattered country. That some day, Iraq will become a brother nation to us, an ally as great as those we liberated 60 years ago.

That dream is within the grasp of both the people of the United States and Iraq—but only if we do not let our short-term politics interfere.

Iraq, War On Terror

A Monkey Wrench In Pelosi’s Plans?

Rep. John Murtha, one of the most vociferous opponents of the Iraq War is now saying that the surge is working:

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), one of the leading anti-war voices in the House Democratic Caucus, is back from a trip to Iraq and he now says the “surge is working.” This could be a huge problem for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders, who are blocking approval of the full $200 billion being sought by President Bush for combat operations in Iraq in 2008.

Murtha’s latest comments are also a stark reversal from what he said earlier in the year. The Pennsylvania Democrat, who chairs the powerful Defense subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, has previously stated that the surge “is not working” and the United States faced a military disaster in Iraq.

Murtha told CNN on July 12, following a Bush speech, that the president’s views on the success of [the] surge in Iraq were “delusional.”

Apparently it’s no longer as “delusional” as it once was. The reality on the ground in Iraq has now reached a point where it’s no longer deniable. This puts the Democrats in a bind: they’ve argued all year that the “surge” was doomed to failure, that Iraq was going to collapse into civil war, and that the only thing we could do was go home. Now, all those predictions have proven to be wrong—the “surge” did work, violence is down, and Iraqi refugees are returning to home.

Of course, the narrative has already changed that the “real” goal of the surge was to get the Iraqi government to make political concessions rather than simply laying the groundwork for those concessions to be possible. However, that’s a transparent attempt to try and ignore the very real progress that’s been made: and the more obvious that progress becomes, the harder it is to change the subject—especially when the word “quagmire” was used so capriciously.

It will be interesting to see what Rep. Pelosi’s reaction will be as more members of the House start backing away from the defeat-at-any-price coalition, it’s going to be harder and harder to play political games over war funding. When even John “Redeploy to Okinawa” Murtha is forced to admit that the military goals of the surge are being met, it’s clear that the line that the surge was a failure and it’s “delusional” to think that it could work just won’t fly anymore.


Why The Surge Is Sustainable

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting response to yesterday’s piece on the surge in Iraq that asks some critical questions about whether our success is sustainable:

Surely this gets well ahead of what we actually know. The causes of the current lull are, by most accounts, tactical success against “AQI” or some of the worst Islamist and Sunni terrorists, some Iranian restraint, Sadr’s cease-fire, increased ethnic separation, Sunni abhorrence of al Qaeda, and exhaustion from chaos. But all of this is undergirded by a more solid US “surge” presence, which will depart next spring. After that? We just don’t know. We do know that national political reconciliation hasn’t happened, and may be further away than ever. We do know that this was the actual point of the surge. . . .

I’m obviously much more optimistic than Sullivan is: I see the arrival of the various “Awakening” movements in places like al-Anbar and Diyala and now in the Shi’ite provinces as a sign of a major new development in this conflict. The reason why the previous security gains were so ephemeral is that there wasn’t a strong Iraqi security effort to sustain them. Once we left, some Iraqis fought bravely and lost, some fled, and some joined the terrorists. In the end, the terrorists had what they needed: enough popular support to blend in and take over.

They’ve lost that advantage now. Because of that, they don’t have any place to hide. The only way that this sort of “insurgency” can be successful as if it’s a popular movement that has enough support to allow the insurgents places to hide weapons and fighters. If they lose that, they’re exposed and vulnerable. What has happened in Iraq is that AQI is now left out in the cold. The Shi’ites hate them, so they get no purchase there. The Sunnis have no convincingly rejected them, so they have no hiding places in al-Anbar or the region surrounding Baghdad to the north and west. They’ve been systematically isolated, and once we know who the bad guys are, it’s a straightforward matter of capturing or killing them.

In fact, that’s exactly what Ayman al-Zawahiri was fearing might happen in Iraq two years ago:

(2) In the absence of this popular support, the Islamic mujahed movement would be crushed in the shadows, far from the masses who are distracted or fearful, and the struggle between the Jihadist elite and the arrogant authorities would be confined to prison dungeons far from the public and the light of day. This is precisely what the secular, apostate forces that are controlling our countries are striving for. These forces don’t desire to wipe out the mujahed Islamic movement, rather they are stealthily striving to separate it from the misguided or frightened Muslim masses. Therefore, our planning must strive to involve the Muslim masses in the battle, and to bring the mujahed movement to the masses and not conduct the struggle far from them.

What is happening in Iraq is exactly that loss of popular support, and exactly the nightmare scenario that al-Zawahiri worried about in 2005.

I also disagree that the purpose of the surge was to create political progress. That’s not an obtainable goal of a military mission. The purpose of the surge was to create the environment where political progress could be achieved. We can’t force Iraq’s disparate groups to come to the negotiating table at gunpoint, but we can ensure that terrorists don’t keep them away at gunpoint. We’ve managed to achieve that much, it’s now up to the Iraqis to decide the future of their own country.

Ultimately, it’s because of that internal Iraqi commitment to fighting terrorism that the current gains aren’t like those previously made in Iraq. The Iraqis are finally stepping up, and it’s becoming more likely that we can step down. If that happens, the line between the Democrats and Bush becomes an academic one. The Democrats want to see withdrawals, and Bush will end up withdrawing the troops. That may deeply annoy the “netroots” who want to see an immediate withdrawal, but for most of the country the immediacy of the Iraq issue would be greatly reduced.

Iraq wasn’t the key issue in 2006, and I don’t see it being the key issue in 2008, especially if Hillary Clinton continues her path towards the nomination. Yes, there’s always the chance that Iraq could explode into violence once again, but as AQI is rapidly diminishing in capability, that seems less likely. Could Moqtada al-Sadr re-mobilize the Mahdi Army? Yes, but to what end? He narrowly escaped with his life in 2004 and 2006, and he’s already faced a minor civil war in his ranks between those who observed his cease-fire and those who didn’t. Could Iran cause more trouble? They could, but the fact that they’re backing off is suggestive. Whether Tehran has realized that they’re better off with a somewhat friendly government in Baghdad rather than chaos on their border or whether they’re worried that President Bush is just waiting for the provocation he needs to justify an attack, they have chosen to ratchet down their involvement in Iraq. So long as that calculus doesn’t change, their actions are unlikely to change.

Iraq is still unsettled, but there’s reason for cautious optimism that things are markedly different than before. The political calculus here at home is interesting, but the real significance is that the Iraqi people are standing up against terrorism in a way that has not happened on this wide a scale before. That has to be worrying al-Qaeda to no end—and may signal a real turning point in this long and difficult war.

Iraq, War On Terror

What If It Works?

The New Republic‘s The Stump political blog asks the question what the political consequences of a successful “surge” in Iraq will be. To be honest, I think we already know the answer.

The importance of Iraq to the 2008 elections is already fading as an issue. As the situation in Iraq slowly begins to improve, the amount of attention it gets from the media decreases. (Unless, of course, they can find some new “grim milestone” to report about.) The reality of the conflict in Iraq is that much of what we set out to do has been done, and now our job is to allow the Iraqis to make the best of their own situation. With the Awakening movements spreading across the country and al-Qaeda being run out, it’s looking less and less likely that Iraq will be a cesspool of terrorism. It may be a fragile democracy that takes years to get over its sectarian conflicts, but that’s to be expected. As I said before the war, in many ways the political development of Iraq will be easier than in Afghanistan, which has never had the sort of modern infrastructure and development that Iraq had.

The diminishing importance of Iraq actually benefits the Democrats. For one, even if we do achieve something close to victory in Iraq the media narrative will be that it was in spite of Bush rather than because it. (Even though it was Bush who stuck it through while the Democrats wanted to bug out.) We’ll see the Democrats return to their 2004 message of “we’ll do it smarter” which is a much more tenable position for them to be in than “let’s get the hell out of here.” Hillary Clinton’s votes to start the war will seem less consequential if it turns out well. Even more importantly, it lets the Democrats focus on domestic issues where they have greater strength.

I don’t believe Iraq will be the top issue in 2008. I’m not so sure it will be a top issue. If I had to prognosticate, I’d say the top issues will be corruption, immigration, entitlement reform and health care, not necessarily in that order. That’s the way that the political landscape appears to be shifting already, and those trends seem likely to continue.

What has happened in Iraq is that the fuel has been removed from the fire. The Sunnis realize that they’re in a battle they can’t win and now want a place at the table. Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army have been forced to call a truce before they ended up once again being killed in the streets for making everyone’s lives miserable. Al-Qaeda has been battered from all sides and no longer can find safe harbor anywhere in Iraq. Now that the Sunnis have rejected them, they have nowhere to go. Even the Iranians seem to be backing down from their attempts to control Iraq.

We will almost certainly have some forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future, just as precaution and a training force for Iraq police and military. However, we won’t have 100,000+ soldiers there inevitably. Given the way in which the Iraqis themselves are finally taking increasing responsibility for their own country and the security situation is improve, the real conflict in Iraq will be in the halls of their Parliament and not in the streets.

Whatever the political consequences of that may be for us at home, it’s certainly good news for Iraq. After years of war, they finally have a real shot at normalcy, and that means more for the future of this world than who wins the next election in the US.