"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pressing Ahead in Iraq

As public doubts about the wisdom of the War in Iraq increase, the Bush administration and the American public are left with two options: cut and run, or press ahead. As Clausewitz pointed out and Gen. George S. Patton confirmed, defending territory is a formula for disaster. The forces that win conflicts are those that are mobile and take the battle into the enemy's domain.

For this reason, I think that the War in Iraq is definitely winnable, because the international coalition forces led by the United States have heretofore refrained from taking the war to the enemy since the extremely successful original invasion.

That invasion was a great success precisely because it took the battle drectly into the domain of the enemy: Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Since then, however, coalition troops have been stranded in that country, defending territory. Most of the American casualties in Iraq have occurred since the original hostilities ended with the expulsion of Saddam Hussein.

The same principle that made for a successful end to the Saddam Hussein regime should have been the premise behind the postwar (or civil war or what have you) period. Toward this end, it is important to bear in mind that the great majority of the damage to coalition troops is being done by foreign jihadists.

As Barbara Lerner notes in National Review Online, "Foreign jihadists are responsible for almost all suicide bombings, and suicide bombings cause a disproportionate share of American and Iraqi casualties. Worse, because foreign jihadists come from all the Arab states as well as Iran, there is an endless supply of them. If we confine ourselves to hunting them down, one by one, only after they infiltrate Iraq, we will be there forever."

That is a highly astute observation. Echoing Clausewitz's principles (though without directly citing him), Lerner correctly identifies the appropriate strategy for this point of the conflict:

"Far better to act forcefully to stop the infiltration, and do it in a way that sends a message to all terror-succoring states: The free ride is over. The price for continuing to aid and abet the war against us and against a free Iraq has gone up."

This is made simpler by the fact that most of the jihadists are coming from a single source:

"[A]lthough foreign jihadists come from all over the Middle East, most of them enter Iraq from only one country: Syria. Syria is a police state, a small, economic basket-case of a country that hosts a multitude of terrorist groups and terror training camps, and which is working to defeat democracy in Lebanon as well as Iraq."

Lerner goes on to note that another country—one far less powerful than the U.S.-led international coalition now in Iraq—successfully closed this spigot in the recent past:

"Syria could stop the foreign terrorist influx into Iraq if it wanted to, and we could make Syria want to. The Turks did it in 1998, when Syria hosted the PKK terror group and sent them across the border to murder Turkish soldiers and civilians. Then as now, Syria claimed it was doing no such thing, but instead of spluttering impotently, Turkey massed her army on the border and made it clear that if Syria didn't end PKK infiltration, Turkey would invade. Surprise, surprise, PKK infiltration from Syria suddenly stopped."

I would add that an effective campaign to do this would achieve the additional benefit of slowing and eventually stopping the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq from countries other than Syria: first by intimidation (as worked so well in stopping Libya's Khaddafi refime from sponsoring terrorism and moving forward to obtain nuclear weapons), and second by allowing coaltion forces to concentrate their efforts on these other jihadists, a much smaller number.

Lerner points out that this matter of taking the war directly to the most dangerous bases of the enemy could be as successful, in military-strategic terms, as the original invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq:

"We can make Syria stop too, and do it without putting additional strain on our hard-working ground troops. . . . We can use our air power to bomb the rat lines that feed terrorists into Iraq, and blow up all the terror training camps and weapons sites in Syria and Lebanon, hitting enemy targets from the Bekaa Valley to the Iraqi border in a new shock-and-awe campaign. That would end the easy re-supply of suicide bombers in Iraq, and reduce our casualties significantly. It would, equally, send a clear message to terror-harborers everywhere: Stop."

Lerner observes that the Bush administration seems to be contemplating this very plan:

"Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has been asking President Bush for a go-ahead to strike back at Syria from the start of the Syrian campaign against us, but has yet to get one. The president's toughening rhetoric toward Syria in recent weeks suggests he may, now, be considering it; and the excellent new tone set by our new ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, reinforces that possibility."

From a military-strategic point of view, the approach Lerner outlines is a highly likely winner. The entry of suicide bombers into Iraq is not such a simple thing that it can be done without the support of neighboring states. Stopping the state sponsorship of the jihadists presently invading Iraq would effectively end that threat.

Setting aside questions about whether the United States should be in Iraq at all, I think that for the sake of the international coalition troops now stranded there, especially our U.S. forces, a return to the successful principle of attacking the real and most dangerous enemy is the only honorable course at this point.

8 comments:

Hunter Baker said...

Reading this just makes me consider how much stronger our hand would be in the Middle East if our own press and left-leaning elites were not constantly driving up the cost of maintaining support in the U.S. If we were united, a threat of force to Syria would be far more credible.

James Elliott said...

I don't get the insistence of focus on "foreign jihadists." Who can possibly look at the coordinated and effective nature of the insurgency and say with a straight face that it wasn't planned well before the war began? Saddam Hussein and the Baathists had to have seen way back in 1993 that if the U.S. wanted to take Baghdad, they were going to take Baghdad.

I submit as exhibit A the recent ammo dump and bunker complex find. A massive stockpile of weapons and faciltiies, just conveniently lending itself perfectly to the needs of an insurgency? No. The insurgency is planned and highly coordinated. Ms. Lerner is a tad off-the-mark when she focuses on suicide bombings. Improvised explosive devices are the most common cause of fatalities to coalition forces (over 20 American soldiers this week alone). IEDs are textbook guerilla warfare. I am also rather astonished that she doesn't make a fairly obvious connection: Syria is run by the Baath party. The focus on jihadists (terrorists) ignores Syria's support as further evidence of a highly coordinated insurgency.

Are there terrorists, the "jihadists" in Iraq? Most certainly. But let's not ignore the broader nature of the insurgency.

I do agree with Ms. Lerner's "shock and awe" evaluation, though. There is not a force in this world that can withstand American military dominance of the battlespace. It is not suicide bombers we should be focusing on, however. Suicide bombing is a tactic of nationalistic insurgencies, which require both fanatical devotion and terror tactics to succeed. The Iraqi insurgency is based around a coordinated, experienced military core. They don't need suicide bombers to continue, but they do need men and materiel, which Syria
is providing, either willfully or by turning a blind eye.

James Elliott said...

"Reading this just makes me consider how much stronger our hand would be in the Middle East if our own press and left-leaning elites were not constantly driving up the cost of maintaining support in the U.S. If we were united, a threat of force to Syria would be far more credible."

Explain this in a way that makes actual sense. How are you in any way able to support this statement on a factual basis?

S. T. Karnick said...

Mr. Elliott, I like your analysis of the current military situation on the ground, and I think it provides additional evidence that an aggressive strategy is urgently needed. Seeing the present situation as a Baathist insurgency, almost certainly pre-planned during the Saddam Hussein era, appears to me to be a fruitful line of investigation. Thanks for the comment.

James Elliott said...

I may be a pinko commie liberal Democrat, but I did devote four years of study to war, counter-terrorism, nation building, and ethnic conflict resolution (admittedly, I focused my studies on the Balkans, but the lessons are broad enough to encompass other areas). I am not a "cut our losses and run" Democrat. I believe that we falsely and unnecessarily went to war, but, since we can't turn back the clock, we owe it to the Iraqis to be in there for the duration.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, so I'm bound to be rather vocal.

Hunter Baker said...

What I mean, Mr. Elliott, is that our internal dissension gives hope to foreign insurgents and others that we will not be capable of summoning the will to follow through on our threats. If the United States is unified on foreign policy, then we are essentially capable of doing whatever we deem appropriate. But if we are defeated from within (see Vietnam), then we are doomed to failure and disgrace.

Anonymous said...

You're right. We should all be united in our opposition to this unjust war. It makes us look bad for half of Americans to support it. That's what you meant, right? Oh, you want us all united on your side? Fancy that.

Tlaloc said...

"I believe that we falsely and unnecessarily went to war, but, since we can't turn back the clock, we owe it to the Iraqis to be in there for the duration."

We can't do any good by staying. The longer we are there the longer we prolong the chaos before the collapse and yes it will collapse, that's inevitable now. The best we can do is get out, and hopefully make a policy of disengagement. That would go a long ways toward making us safe from terrorism (as opposed to this ill concieved war which has been a huge boon to terrorist groups).