Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Losing the War II

I don't remember exactly how it came up in conversation. I guess it was just that we had been talking to a couple of soldiers just back from the war that prompted it. Either way, we were outside of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC, and were walking down to where the Code Pink people were. The soldiers had gone down there to confront engage in dialogue with them (details here).

Either way, I made some comment about how the situation in Baghad was pretty grim. My compatriot turned to me and said something like "oh but we've been making progress recently!"

Before I could say anything, the moment ended. We got to where we were going, someone else spoke, and the conversation went elsewhere.

If I had been able, I would have said something along the lines of "Oh come on. Here we are 3 1/2 years into the war and you're telling me cheerfully that "we're making progress in the capital city"? "

In Losing the War I said that we were losing the overall war against Islamic fascism (I encourage you to read it simply because several commenters made some very astute points). In this post I'm going to say that we're losing the war in Iraq.

Before my pro-war readers freak out, be assured that one, I think we can still pull it out, and that two I still think it was a good idea to invade.

Before any anti-war readers chortle with glee, ask yourself why it makes you happy to read that I think we're losing.

The editors and writers of National Review have supported the war from the beginning, and do so today. But like me, they have come to be more and more alarmed with the state of affairs in Baghdad. As such, they gathered 10 military experts, geopolitical thinkers, Middle East scholars, and conservative writers for a symposium and asked them two questions: "Are we winning; and, if not, how can we?"

You can read their responses yourself in the September 11, 2006 edition of the magazine. If you pay for a digitial subscription (free with a subscription) you can view it on-line. And shame on you if you don't subscribe.

The participants are David Frum, Newt Gingrich, Mark Helprin, Lawrence Kaplan, Robert Kaplan, Michael Ledeen, Ralph Peters, Michael Rubin, Mark Steyn, and Bernard E. Trainor.

None of them think we're winning, with the possible exception of Mark Steyn, who offered a tepid "Iraq will be mostly all right". Most of them think it's salvagable, though barely so. All offer wise words of advice.

First, however, the editors of NR set the stage
Over the last two years, the U.S. has done nearly everything it thought might undermine the insurgency in Iraq and stabilize the country. We held elections that demonstrated the desire of most Iraqis for a better future. We brought Sunnis into the legitimate political process and fostered the creation of a unity government. We killed the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Zarqawi. We built an Iraqi army that, for all its flaws, will stand and fight. We pushed aside the ineffectual prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari to make room for his replacement, Nouri al-Maliki. We did all of this, yet the violence is as bad as it has ever been.

Attacks on American troops are up. Attacks on Iraqi forces are up. Attacks on Iraqi civilians are up. Iraqi civil society gives the impression of teetering on the edge of collapse. People are afraid to go to mosques, for fear of the horrors that regularly transpire at them. Bank officials depend on stealthy deliveries of cash in private cars, for fear of the brazen robberies that regularly befall armored vehicles. People hesitate to open their doors to the police, for fear that they might actually be militiamen prowling the streets with power tools to torture their victims. Mourners can’t even collect corpses at the Baghdad mosque free of fear that they will be killed while doing so. The middle class is fleeing the country, and both Shia and Sunni are beginning to leave mixed neighborhoods to escape sectarian violence.
If that doesn't get your attention nothing will. But on with the symposium. Following are some excerpts

Michael Rubin
Militias exist to impose through force what they cannot win through the ballot box. Iran exerts its influence through militias, and the U.S. fails to counter them. Left alone, they metastasize.
Bernard E. Trainor
The hoped-for unity government is fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines, with each group advancing its own agenda. Even in a bureaucratic sense it is not working. Corruption at all levels is endemic. Violence is at an all-time high and getting worse, with Iraqis being killed at the rate of 3,000 a month in the internecine war. The sectarian vigilantes and mafias are running wild. Iran clandestinely supports the Shiite militias. Expectations of success in the much-advertised program to restore security to Baghdad are questionable, given past failures. We have not mastered the insurgent way of war, and do not have enough troops in Iraq to “clear, hold, and build” in insurgent-dominated areas. Daily strikes against coalition forces have doubled since January. The Iraqi army remains pitiful, and the police are not only ineffective but untrustworthy. Efforts to put the country’s economy in working order are crippled by insurgent attacks, looting, and corruption.
David Frum
Will 4,000 U.S. troops redeployed from elsewhere in Iraq suffice to do the job? I don’t know anyone who thinks that they will. Not for the first time, we are left to wonder: Does the Bush administration truly believe Iraq is as important as it says it is?
Robert Kaplan
A good case can be made for ramping up troop numbers dramatically. A good case can also be made for drastically reducing them, leaving behind a force of Marines and special-operations soldiers embedded in the Iraqi security services: a classic im¬perial model. Much weaker is the case for what we are doing presently: for example, robbing Mosul of troops in order to move a few thousand to Greater Baghdad. Mosul, though it has made significant progress since 2004, is by no means secure.
Michael Ledeen
What to do? First, recognize that the Iraqi enterprise rested on a failure of strategic vision: It was never possible to secure Iraq so long as Iran and Syria were left free to wage terror war against us. Our military, and some Iraqi units, are terrific, but you can’t win a regional war by playing defense in one place. It is, as I have said ad infinitum, a sucker’s game. Ergo, work for regime change in Iran and Syria, the only way to win the war.
I could go on but you get the point. As I said above, buy the magazing or get a digital subscription and read the whole thing. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about a round table discussion in Foreign Affairs, in which several participants posed ideas on what to do to win in Iraq. I didn't necessarily agree with their ideas, but it was as useful exercise in that what we're doing now isn't working.

Most of the participants in the NR symposium urged the administration to commit more resources, especially troops. Their basic argument is that for some weird reason the administration is trying to win the war on the cheap, and that if we tried harder we would be successfrul. Unfortunately, it may be too late. Michael Rubin in particular said that we're losing primarily because neither the American people nor our politicians (GOP as well as Democrat) are not committed to winning, and took the administration to task for not making the case for war more strongly.

Regarding increased troops, a frustrated reader at NRO made the observation that
If it is true that adding this relatively small number of troops to Baghdad is significantly improving the situation there, can you please tell why in (you know where) it has taken us so long to do this?
To be sure, the issue of additional troops is more complicated than many seem to imagine, as I pointed out in a post last year. Nevertheless, it's still a good question.

The reader, btw, was referring to reports like this one
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said US and Iraqi troops have reduced the levels of violence in Baghdad but whether that lasts depends on a difficult reconciliation process....

The meeting came amid reports from military commanders in Iraq that violent incidents in Baghdad have come down by 40 percent in the past three weeks as US and Iraqi troops have cordoned off and cleared some of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods....

Thousands of US troops were brought into the capital earlier this month amid fears that spiralling sectarian violence could descend into all-out civil war, pitting Shiites against Sunnis.

Losing to Who?

Perhaps the most frustrating, and strangest, aspect of all this is who we're losing to. It's not a defined enemy, one with a headquarters or capital city. We're losing to chaos, to the Iraqis themselves, to Iranian and Syrian subsersives, to sectarian and tribal violence. Al-Qaeda is not going to take over if we pull out. A Milosevic-type fascist who wants to "cleanse" the country of Sunnis might.

Not Linear

Anti-war types will say that we were losing from the start. Some pro-war types always say that "things are improving". Both are wrong. Neither seem to realize that there is an ebb and flow to wars, that it usually goes back and forth between who is winning and who is losing. Now is not the place for a full summary, but suffice it to say that we were winning in early 2003, losing by the end of that year and in 2004 ("What Went Wrong", October 2004), we started to win again in 2005 ("We're Winning", April 2005), but in the past 6-8 months things have taken a decided downwards turn.

No Excuses

As the editors say, " In the end, there is no excuse for losing a war". The GOP has controlled both houses of congress since before the war began. The media may be an annoyance, but Reagan got around it, and he didn't even have the House. The Democrats may be a bunch of political opportunists, for the war when it was popular and against it when not, but they're essentially out of power.

Drunken Sailors

Our problems seem therefore to be twofold; one, we will not commit the resources, and two, the administration will not make the case.

It's not as if we don't have the money. I don't have the figures in front of me, but we all know that the Republicans in congress have been spending money like there's no tomorrow. President Bush encourages their irresponsible behavior, refusing to veto any spending bills whatsoever.

What makes it all so bad is the reason for all the spending; the GOP is trying to buy votes. At least when liberals spend money they do it out of principle. When it comes to most Republicans, they do it just to keep their seats.

So rather than build another carrier task force (we're down, I think to 12, a post-WWII low), reconstitute an Army or Marine Corps division or three, build more F-15s, or ramp up our intelligence assets, they spend the money on pork-barrel projects.

Michael Rubin pointed out that
The U.S. is losing in Iraq because American politicians and the general public have not decided they want or need to win. Many congressmen look at Iraq through the lens of the 2006 election: They care neither how their words embolden the enemy nor how their grandstanding impacts Iraq.
Again, yes the Democrats are not being helpful. But they're not in power. Anywhere.

The fact is that the administration went on vacation shortly after our success in smashing the Ba'athist regime and never quite came back. Reforming Social Security was a laudable goal, but not at the expense of taking attention away from the war.

If Bill Clinton was in office he'd be out making the case for war every day. He'd be visiting a military base or hospital, shaking hands and making sure the photo ops went as planned. He'd make sure that every week there was some piece of legislation designed to help win the war for him to sign, and would arrange for a full-blown press event to ensure maximum publicity. By comparison, this administration is woefully incompetent.

If We Lose

If we lose so many bad things will happen, and so many more could, that I hardly want to think about it. Mark Steyn lays out one of them with his usual blend of seriousness and humor
(The United States) has acquired the habit either of losing wars or of ending them inconclusively. A similar result in the Middle East would lead not just the Chinese, Russians, and Iranians but also the Norwegians, Singaporeans, and Australians to conclude that the nation's hyperpower status was some freak accident — like Jerry Lewis stumbling into a boardroom meeting and being mistaken for the new chairman. They would make their dispositions according, there being no reason why anyone should take Washington seriously ever again. If the Democrats think that's good for the world, I'd like to know why.
Is anyone in the administration listening?