The war in Iraq is vital to America’s national security, and to the Global War on Terror. It is a fight which we are not currently losing on the ground, and which we will not lose if we simply put petty partisan politics aside and commit to victory, rather than seeking to take the easy way out (in the short term) and abandoning yet another battlefield to the enemy.
Despite the fact that we live in an age of unparalleled access to information, this message (along with seemingly every other accurate detail about the war in Iraq) is still not being heard by the majority of Americans, many of whom harbor misconceptions borne out of ignorance and, ironically, a lack of information – and its reception by the American people and our leaders is vital both to military success in that country, and to the security of our country in the long term.
Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization which attacked us in 1993, in 1998, in 2000, and in 2001 – among other times – has the dual distinction of being both the highest-profile enemy in the War on Terror, and enemy number one in Iraq. Regardless of Speaker of the House Nancy “The Real War on Terror is in Afghanistan” Pelosi’s apparent belief, along with many of her colleagues, that the latter is untrue, the leaders of that terror network (who, it may be safely supposed, have a bit more knowledge of their own operations than Ms. Pelosi) have said otherwise, and have done so both loudly and repeatedly. Only last week, Ayman al-Zawahiri (via video) spoke of the vital role that Iraq currently plays as “the centerpiece of [al Qaeda’s] anti-American fight.”
Since the war’s beginning, the calls have come, from retired military officers, politicians, and activists, for a change in course in Iraq. This week, Democrats in Congress will be voting on a resolution (HR 2956) which says exactly that, and sets a date for withdrawal of US forces 120 days from now – despite the fact that only six months ago, the Senate, by unanimous (81-0) vote, confirmed a new military leader who was bringing with him a brand-new strategic approach to the fight in that country.
Despite being corrected ad nauseum, the majority of people seem to have the same misconceptions about the relation between this new strategy and the so-called ‘Surge’ now that they did when it was first proposed. The ‘Surge’ – an increase in boots on the ground in Iraq – was never the strategy itself. The increase in troop levels, requested by General Petraeus, was one of many components (or “strategic shifts,” as national security advisor Stephen Hadley called them in a January 29 Washington Post op-ed, in which he even then was attempting to clear up the misconception that the ‘Surge’ was the strategy in its entirety) necessary to implement the sweeping new strategy, which radically altered our country’s course in Iraq and sought to solve the problems and shore up the weaknesses which four years of fighting had created and exposed.
The strategy itself was and is far more intricate and multi-pronged than a simple ‘surge’ in troops. The main focus of the new strategy has been the Baghdad Security Plan – a strategy focused on the capital city of Iraq, which seeks (with increased Iraqi and American forces) to permanently rid neighborhoods of terrorists and extremists and keep them that way, and to secure the population. The new strategy in Baghdad was to be met with new rules of engagement, set to ensure that Iraqi and U.S. forces could pursue lawbreakers and terrorists regardless of their community or sect, and to be followed by economic assistance and reconstruction aid – including billions of dollars in Iraqi funds – which would combine to offer employment and the prospect of better lives for average citizens. While this operation has been ongoing since Gen. Petraeus’s appointment in January, troop levels in Iraq have just recently reached the amount necessary to fully implement the BSP and to undertake the other aspects of the new strategy.
Outside of the Baghdad Security Plan, the new strategy stepped up the fight against al Qaeda – the most brutal and violent foe we have in that country, and the one which has the most to lose from a US and Iraqi victory there. Beginning in Anbar Province – until six months ago, the most-written-off area of Iraq, and a sanctuary for AQI – US forces have systematically driven al Qaeda from their strongholds, rallying tribes, clans, and groups of all sects to the cause of liberty and of a free Iraq. Though one of the major successes of this war, Anbar is hardly mentioned in the news media at all today, and Michael Yon recently reported having spent a month there without hearing a shot fired (an amazing development, as gunfire had been as common a background noise in Iraq as traffic is in America). Further, the US military is currently wrapping up week three of Operation Arrowhead Ripper, the largest offensive since 2003 and one aimed directly at rooting out and destroying al Qaeda in Baqubah (in Diyala Province just north of Baghdad), one of their final Iraqi strongholds. Each place that the coalition openly fights against al Qaeda, the citizens and tribesmen join in, standing side by side with Americans – their differences forgotten – and helping to win back their neighborhoods, their cities, and their country.
Other aspects of this new strategy included doubling the number of provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) in Iraq. These civilian-led units have been helping the Iraqi government distribute development aid across the country; this year, 10 new civilian PRTs have been be embedded with U.S. combat brigades. The training of Iraqi security forces has been accelerated, with benchmarks set to track progress, and numerical goals decided upon to best bolster the size and effectiveness of those forces. Contrary to popular belief, training and supporting Iraqi troops has been and will remain our military’s essential and primary mission in that country.
Victory in Iraq is not an option, not only for the citizens there, but for America’s national security. The Iraqi people do by and large want us there – not forever, but until they are secure enough to take over themselves. Taking a shattered state – especially one like Iraq, which, being comprised of people who think of themselves as members of a tribe, sect, clan, or mahalla, has no sense whatsoever of itself – and making it whole again is a long and arduous task. It is doubly so when an effective insurgency is being waged against the rebuilding force – and make no mistake about it: this insurgency is effective. However, along with the new strategy in Iraq came the author of America’s brand new field manual on counterinsurgency, General David Petraeus – a situation which should lend itself to great confidence on the part of the American people in our ability to effectively and correctly prosecute this war.
There is no “Plan B” to substitute for success in Iraq. If we fail there, the Iraqi government and its security institutions will almost certainly crumble under the pressure of widespread sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, and extrajudicial killing, all of which will be on a scale which we can hardly comprehend. The chaos, which would spread across the country like wildfire, could very well engulf the region. Even if it did not reach that far, our withdrawal would give al Qaeda exactly what they have so often asked for: a base of operations outside of Afghanistan, from which they can carry out attacks on American interests and on our homeland itself.
The American military can win this fight. What is needed is for the American people, and their leaders, to put politics aside in favor of presenting a united front against those who, regardless what concessions we make, will do their utmost to kill us. The effort will take time, as all successful counterinsurgencies have. Whether or not our fast-food, instant-gratification culture which is used to instant results at the push of a button and to the world being saved by the end of a two-hour movie remains to be seen; however, without time and patience, failure is all but assured. 150,000 troops, thousands of terrorists, and 25 million citizens do not respond instantly, and war is not a brief affair; however, unless this fact can be grasped by our increasingly ADD population and leadership (which decried the failure of the new strategy while even the most basic groundwork was still being laid), America will stand no chance in this or any future conflicts, as those we fight will constantly have the advantage of far greater dedication and patience than we will allow ourselves to display.
The time that winning the peace in Iraq will take is compounded by the fact that, for the Iraqi people to decide to put their lives on the line and to stand together against their murderous enemies, we must first convince them that we are committed to staying there to support them for as long as it takes.
Their skepticism on the latter is justified. We fled the battlefield in Vietnam, in Beirut, and in Somalia after being hit in the mouth by our adversaries. Furthermore – and more relevantly – we abandoned the Iraqis in 1991, after encouraging them to revolt against Saddam and promising to stand behind them while they did so. It will take far more than three weeks at full strength and a few more months of operations against the insurgency in Iraq to convince the people there that we will stick with them for the long haul; however, without doing so, we cannot succeed.
Giving in and pulling out of Iraq is exactly what al Qaeda and our other enemies have demanded of us. Despite the brief respite that such a decision would appear able to provide our “war-weary” nation (a sad fact on its own, and reflective of our ADD culture) and military, such a decision would bring nothing but harm, both to Iraq and, in the long run, to America. We were attacked on September 11th by the same enemy we are now facing in Iraq. Surrendering the field to them would be nonsensical and unacceptable, as it would serve to strike a self-inflicted, fatal blow at the war on terror, and to simply invite more attacks against ourselves here at home.
Jeff Emanuel, a special operations military veteran who served in Iraq, is a columnist and a director of conservative weblog RedState.com. A veteran embedded reporter, he will be returning to the front lines in Iraq this fall to provide the American people with firsthand information on the situation in Baghdad and elsewhere while Congress debates America’s future there. Click here for more information, including how you can help support this vital effort.