We Won The War, But Are Losing The Battle Against The InsurgencyMay 25, 2007
It seems like a relatively novel concept, but I just thought I’d throw it out there. Why? Well, all too often I hear journalists*, bloggers, and pundits refer to our (the U.S.’s) military involvement in Iraq as “the War”. I think there needs to be a distinction made here. The thought came to me when I saw this story: US urges Sadr to play ‘positive’ Iraq role (Hat Tip: LGF.)
The United States on Friday urged radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to play “a useful and positive role” in Iraq after his dramatic return to frontline Iraqi politics.
“Now that he’s back from four months in Iran, we hope he’ll play a useful and positive role in the development of Iraq,” said White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
Sadr called for national unity and the withdrawal of US troops in his first speech in seven months and the first since US commanders and Iraqi officials said in January that he had fled to Iran.
I know many bloggers and pundits have questioned the US’s tolerance of al-Sadr, and have wondered why we haven’t just taken him out, especially when his Mahdi army has been responsible for attacks on our forces. This is where the aforementioned distinction becomes relevant….
In a war, the goal is to beat the enemy into submission, capitulation, or surrender. This was easily done back in 2003, highlighted by Bush’s famous declaration of the end of major combat operations. From that day forward, our military has been engaged in the reconstruction/nation-building efforts of Iraq, which has been severely complicated by a very persistent insurgency. The reason why we haven’t ‘bombed al-Sadr’ is because fighting an insurgency is very different from fighting a war.
If you read anything about counter-insurgency, you’ll see that effective tactics aren’t as black-and-white as just “killing the bad guys”. It is a complex and organic problem that constantly forces you to adjust and react. In fact, most of the effective counter-insurgency tactics don’t involve killing anybody. It’s more about winning ‘hearts and minds’, political maneuvering, and building alliances with the locals. Killing someone with al-Sadr’s popularity would be extremely counterproductive to these efforts.
I suggest all visitors read David Kilcullen’s Twenty-eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency (pdf).
Kilcullen, incidentally, is one of the of the guys that was brought in late with General Petraeus (some people say too late), to fix the problems our old pal Rumsfeld has created. Namely, the fact that our troops are trying to win ‘hearts and minds’ in an environment where -4 years in- 51% of the Iraqi population approve of the attacks on Coalition forces (or more). Some might call that an impossible mission, or, that we have already lost this battle. Nevertheless, that is the mission they have right now, and is the correct way to frame what it is we’re doing over there.
Unlike other bloggers, I don’t see this in terms of ‘victory’ or ‘defeat’. From a certain point of view, we already ‘won’ (Saddam is dead, WMD’s are gone/never found, and sovereignty established), and ‘lost’ (our window of opportunity for a successful reconstruction outcome has passed). The debate should be whether this really is an impossible mission at this point, and whether it’s in our best interests to continue to pursue it. I think the current domestic political scene is missing this by a longshot.
*A few news outlets will frame news on the conflict under the heading “Battle for Iraq” or something similar (which I consider accurate).