Thursday, November 09, 2006

The problem with Iraq

At one level, the problem in Iraq is fairly simple. It comes down to the definition of victory.

Traditionally, victory simply meant defeating the enemy. Beating the enemy into submission. Unconditional surrender.

The advantage of this definition is that the success or failure of the mission is basically unilateral. It depends on how much brute force you can apply to the situation in contrast to the enemy. As long as you can overpower the enemy through overwhelming force, you win.

Put another way, as long as you have what it takes, you enjoy a high degree of over the outcome. Success or failure depends on you, not on anyone else. On how much sheer militar might you have at your disposal, and your will to win by any means necessary.

Paradigm-cases are the defeat of the Axis powers in WWII.

The problem Bush has is that he defined victory, not in terms of defeating the enemy in Iraq, but in terms of winning the populace over to our side.

And the difficulty with that strategy is that success becomes a cooperative rather than unilateral exercise.

What makes this difficult is that you don’t have much control over the responsiveness, or lack thereof, of a second party.

Bush has put the success or failure of his strategic objective at the mercy of contingencies over which he has little direct control.

For the moment, I’m not saying that this is good or bad. Obviously we couldn’t be as iron-fisted with Iraq as we could be with Japan, because Iraq didn’t attack us.

My point is simply that Bush, be redefining the tradition concept of victory, lost control of his own policy. For he effectively ceded the control over the outcome to the Iraqis. At that juncture, the results were out of his hands.

Unlike traditional warfare, where you crush the enemy if you have the wherewithal to do so, it doesn’t lie within your power to make a second party voluntarily share the risk or take in active part in the outcome.

This point is made, in a different way, by Victor Hanson on the resignation of Rumsfeld.


DON'T BLAME RUMSFELD! [Victor Davis Hanson]
I don't see how removing the Secretary of Defense helps either the country or the Republicans, especially given the pre-election vote of confidence in his full tenure. He was on the right track reforming the military; the removal of the Taliban and the three-week victory over Saddam were inspired.

So we are down to his supposed responsibility for the later effort to stop the 3-year plus insurgency, whose denouement is not yet known. Rumsfeld's supposed error that drew such ire was troop levels, i.e., that he did not wish to repeat a huge presence in the manner of Vietnam, but sought to skip the 1964-1971 era morass, and go directly to the 1972-5 Vietnamization strategy of training troops, providing aid, and using air power.

I think he was right, and that most troops in Iraq today would agree. I was just talking to a Marine Lt. back from Haditha and Hit; his chief worry was not too few Americans, but rather Iraqi Security Forces insidiously expecting Americans to do their own security patrolling. Since sending in tens of thousands to do a Grozny-like smash-up is both politically impossible and antithetical to American policy, I don't see the advantage of more troops at all, especially when we will soon near 400,000 Iraqis in arms, which, together with coalition forces of ca. 150,000, would in theory provide 555,000—or more than the "peacetime" army of Saddam's. As a rule in history, it is not just the size, but the nature, rules of engagement, and mission, of armies that matter.

For the future, neither precipitous withdrawal nor a big build-up are the right solutions, the former will leave chaos, the latter will only ensure perpetual Iraqi dependency. As it is, there are too many support troops over in Iraq in compounds, who are not out with Iraqis themselves; more troops will only ensure an even bigger footprint and more USA-like enclaves. Abezaid, Casey, Petraeus, McMaster, etc. understand counter-insurgency and the need for a long-term commitment that marries political autonomy for the Iraqis with American aid, commandos, and air support. Rumsfeld supported them all.

A final note. Whatever Rumsfeld's past in the 1970s and 1980s, he wholeheartedly supported the present effort to offer the Middle East something other than realpolitik. I don't see how the Reagan-Bush era 1980s and early 1990s policies in the Middle East— selling arms to Iran, putting troops in Lebanon and running when they were hit, cynically playing off Iran against Iraq, selling weapons to any thug in the Middle East, giving a blank check to the House of Saud, letting the Shiites and Kurds be massacred in February-March 1991—were anything other than precursors to the events of 9/11—when, of course, enhanced by the shameless Clintonian appeasement of the middle and late 1990s.

The return of the realists-Baker, Gates, and the former advisors to GB I-should prove an interesting mix with the Dean-Pelosi Democrats. The latter used to call for idealism in foreign policy, then got it with GWB's democratization, then turned on him, and now will get the realism that they currently profess to favor. Don't hold your breath.



  1. I love the mix of theology and politics on this blog.

    It is awfully difficult to call the GOP God's party, though, isn't it? For every abortion they oppose, they support some inane corruption, or they fail to prevent genocide in Africa.

    I guess the Dems are God's party for a while. He chose them to be, at least.

    Well, I helped...

  2. As an added note, I think VDH's latest article, a review of Mark Steyn's America Alone, is well worth reading, too.

  3. anonymous wrote:
    It is awfully difficult to call the GOP God's party, though, isn't it?

    Atheists are the only people who I've heard say that in the first place.

    anonymous wrote:
    I guess the Dems are God's party for a while. He chose them to be, at least.

    I agree that God wanted them to be in control of Capitol Hill right now. Unfortunately, you still do not understand that God can use evil to accomplish good. Thus, God's using the Democrats in no way means they are virtuous, just as God's using the Republicans does not imply the same thing on their behalf.

    I think one of the biggest problems, for both atheists and Christians, is the notion that the God of the entire universe is only focused on what you want. It's this whole "me-me-me" attitude that's the root of the problem in the first place.

    God is bigger than we are. God's purposes transcend us. This election is a drop in the bucket of a history far greater than anything you or I could contemplate right now. To pretend otherwise is simply erroneous.