Counterinsurgency warfare is a long, slow slog; dealing with a war where the divisions have been baked into a society by centuries of hatred, and then forced into a deep, crafty underground by decades of top-down authoritarian rule is harder still. The British – who have more years of experience with counterinsurgency war than the United States has years, took three decades to quell the worst of the violence in Northern Ireland, and never entirely extinguished it in India in 300 years.
Winning, in these wars, is never a matter of dragging the enemy to the deck of the USS Missouri and signing a treaty. The job – according to any number of sources with knowledge of the topic – involves a complex mix of protecting and helping the friendly locals, persuading the locals that are on the fence what is the winning bet, and finding the enemy and either killing him or convincing him that there’s a better way.
It’s not a job for the faint of heart. It’s also, by all accounts, a job we have never really carried out successfully. We were, by some accounts, on our way to at least an acceptable stalemate in Vietnam in 1962, before John F. Kennedy – eager for a “drag the enemy to the deck of the Missouri” victory after his Bay of Pigs debacle – upended years of progress by special forces advisors in quiet back-country “hearts and minds” operations by sending in the Marines, followed by hundreds of thousands of troops from a regular Army that had been trained to serve as a nuclear tripwire in Europe.
We’ve learned a lot since then – chief among those lessons being the switch at the end of the Vietnam era to a volunteer military. But there are more to learn.
The wider Sunni insurgency — the groups beyond Al Qaeda — is being slowly, and surely, defeated. The average insurgent today feels demoralized, disillusioned, and hunted. Those who have not been captured yet are opting for a quieter life outside of Iraq. Al Qaeda continues to grow for the time being as it cannibalizes the other insurgent groups and absorbs their most radical and hardcore fringes into its fold. The Baathists, who had been critical in spurring the initial insurgency, are becoming less and less relevant, and are drifting without a clear purpose following the hanging of their idol, Saddam Hussein. Rounding out this changing landscape is that Al Qaeda itself is getting a serious beating as the Americans improve in intelligence gathering and partner with more reliable Iraqi forces.In other words, battling the insurgency now essentially means battling Al Qaeda. This is a major accomplishment.
Kazimi is half-right. The other part of the battle is in Washington DC. And that’s where the Iraq war will be lost, as the new Democrat majority – with ideals even more misguided than Rumsfeld’s few worst mistakes, and in cases openly fantasizing about a “last chopper off the roof” iconic moment for their own generation – actively tries to scuttle the war effort…
(…which the Administration did, it seems, bungle for much of this past couple of years. There’s really no way around that).
Last October, my sources began telling me about rumblings among the insurgent strategists suggesting that their murderous endeavor was about to run out of steam. This sense of fatigue began registering among mid-level insurgent commanders in late December, and it has devolved to the rank and file since then. The insurgents have begun to feel that the tide has turned against them.
Half of it, maybe.
The half that really matters – in the Capitol – seems to be clipping right along.
The Washington-initiated “surge” will speed-up the ongoing process of defeating the insurgency. But one should not consider the surge responsible for the turnaround. The lesson to be learned is to keep killing the killers until they realize their fate.
For those (inevitable) hecklers who’ll assume Kazimi is a mindless apologist for the Administration…:
General David Petraeus, whom President Bush has tasked to quell the insurgency, spent the last year and a half updating the U.S. Army and Marine Corps‘s field manual for counterinsurgency. There’s plenty of fancy theory there, as well as case studies from Iraq. I don’t know how much of the new manual is informed by General Petraeus’ two notable failures in Iraq: building a brittle edifice of government in Mosul that collapsed at the first challenging puff, and the inadequate training and equipping of the Iraqi army due to corruption and mismanagement.
General Petraeus walked away from those failures unscathed and hence unaccountable. He re-enters the picture with major expectations. Most commentators, especially those who begrudge attributing any success to Mr. Bush, will lionize the general as he takes credit for this turnaround and speeds it up. Let’s hope that he has enough sense to allow what works to keep working and to improve on it, rather than trying to put his own stamp on things and test out the theories he’s developed.
Kazimi goes way into specifics of the insurgency – the Sunni attempts to expand their power, the defiance by some Shi’a of Sistani’s call for peace – specifics the MSM has been very light on. Read the article about the means, and go to the ends:
Sadly, it took many thousands of young Sunnis getting abducted by death squads for the Sunnis to understand that in a full-fledged civil war, they would likely lose badly and be evicted from Baghdad. I believe that the Sunnis and insurgents are now war weary, and that this is a turnaround point in the campaign to stabilize Iraq…Let me state the lesson of this turnabout clearly lest it be obscured amidst the euphoria: Never mind who takes credit, kill or capture more of the killers to ensure victory.
If you’re for staying in Iraq, read the whole thing. It’s interesting, sobering, and validating (although not in an easy way).
If you’re for cutting and running, read the whole thing before bothering to comment.