Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Read My Lips: Stay the Course!

Last week, America's top commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, suggested we might be able to initiate troop withdrawals from Iraq as early as next spring. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari echoed that sentiment in a press conference held with visiting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Meanwhile an Associated Press report this week suggested that Pentagon planners are already initiating plans for a pullout (“U.S. Prepares for Iraq Pullout”, August 3, 2005).

For many troopers on their second and third tours, this will likely come as good news. A USA Today article late last week ("For Combat-weary Marines, Each Stint Adds to the Strain", USA Today, July 28, 2008), discussing the ramifications of repeated tours in Iraq, quoted James Hosek, a RAND military retention specialist: "It's an open question as to how much we can ask of them." The all-volunteer army has never before been tested in this fashion.

There is little doubt that the extended deployments to Iraq are having a toll. Recruitment is down and there are widespread reports regarding the stresses on personnel and equipment. Meanwhile, the Army has formalized plans to withdraw 50,000 Army soldiers from Germany and South Korea over the next four years. While this is part of the overall plan to reform Army units into more flexible post-Cold War brigades, the withdrawal appears to have been driven at least partly by perceived manpower needs for the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The administration continues to claim military force levels are adequate for all requirements in Iraq but other analysts argue – and I personally concur – that overall troop levels in the U.S. military have actually been inadequate since the early 1990s when President George H.W. Bush initiated an ill-advised reduction in active Army divisions from 18 to 10 on grounds that thaws in the Cold War made the cuts acceptable.

We had enough trouble mustering troops for Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Additional force cuts during the Clinton administration made the situation even worse. Our exhausted troops are paying for it all now. Ongoing attempts to expand the Army by 30,000 troops and reorganize the outmoded Army division structure into more efficient combat brigades may help things in the long term, but for now we must rely on the Army – and troop level – that we have today.

It is plain at this point that the U.S. military needs time to recover from the strains of Iraq but suggesting we should even discuss withdrawing now is extremely unwise for a number of reasons.

First, it tells the terrorists that their tactics are winning. And if their tactics can win today, there is no reason for them to believe they won't win tomorrow. We will encourage more of the same.

Second, it demonstrates that once again, rather than confront the challenges of guerilla warfare, politicians and military planners will choose to put off the inevitable, cost what it may to the morale of our troops, our country and our standing in the world opinion.

Finally, it opens up the possibility that Iraq may fall once again back into the hands of tyrants, rendering pointless our entire operation there, especially the horrendous blood sacrifices of our young warriors. It will be Vietnam all over again.

These are absolutely unacceptable outcomes. Rather than abandoning Iraq, it is time to take the gloves off with the troops we have there.

To win against these enemies, however, means a lot of changes. First of all it means treating the insurgents like we treated German and Japanese special forces in World War II who didn't play by the rules: summary execution for those who are caught, including informants, spies and sympathizers.

Second, it means that we must recognize the complicity of Iraq's population in allowing the insurgency to survive. The local populations in each town know who and where the insurgents are, and many tribal leaders have even admitted as much (See "Sunnis Will Nab Zarqawi When Ready," The Washington Times, June 29, 2005).

While it is understandable that many don't come forward due to fears of retribution, their fears for their own personal safety are not excuses for refusing to help us identify the enemy among them. In the long run, they will face those monsters without any hope of deliverance if we decide to leave prematurely. If they will not help us, then we can't – and shouldn't – vouch for their safety.

If, for example, we find it necessary to bomb a neighborhood, those who silently tolerate the insurgents must recognize that they always had the opportunity to help us get rid of them and in so doing avoid the consequences of a Fallujah-like scorched-earth policy. So it is really wiser for them to help now, only we haven't convinced them of that fact.

At the present time, some Iraqis are betting on the terrorists. If they really believed we planned to finish what we started, more would be helping us. But because we treat the captured terrorists with kid gloves and refuse to do everything necessary to root out those still active, many Iraqis see no point in spilling what they know. It will only get them killed in the end. The Iraqi people need confidence in our determination and abilities. Right now we are disappointing them and will only earn their respect with sterner measures.

Another recent development of grave concern is the warming relations between Iraq and Iran. After a July 7, 2005 meeting between the defense ministers of the two countries, Iranian Defense Minister Adm. Ali Shamkhani outlined many areas of cooperation between the two, including mine clearance, anti-terrorism efforts, identifying MIAs from the Iran-Iraq war, and training and re-equipping the Iraqi army.

While Iraqi Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi claimed a few days later that Iraq had made no agreements with Iran regarding troop training, he was with Shamkhani at the press conference, had ample opportunities to correct his Iranian counterpart, and didn't.

I am assuming that despite al-Dulaimi's belated denials, Iran will likely have a hand in training Iraqi troops at some point. In any case, this wide-ranging agreement will provide many opportunities for Iran to insinuate itself into Iraqi politics.

It will be ironic to say the least that, if in freeing Iraq, the blood sacrifices of U.S. troops enable Iran - a leading state sponsor of terrorism and preeminent member of the Axis of Evil - to influence Iraq's future military and political path. Given our sacrifices in Iraq and our stake in the process, such an outcome should be utterly unacceptable to the United States. We will have much less ability to prevent that outcome if we leave now.

However, some say we have no business telling the Iraqis how to run their affairs. A democracy, after all is a democracy. It doesn't have to develop the way we want.

Au Contraire!

Taking out Saddam's Ba'athists was a great plan. Creating a moderate, pro-Western democratic government in its place is a great plan. Allowing his former enemies in Iran to call the shots now is no better than allowing his regime holdouts and Syrian Ba'athist brethren to run things in his place. We might as well bring back Saddam. Create a democracy so they can elect another bloodthirsty tyrant? I don't think so!

We saved that country from itself. We removed a monstrous dictator and paid for it in blood. We are entitled to see it evolve in a manner beneficial to both our regional and global interests, not to mention the best interests of the Iraqis themselves.

Finally, it also must be said that the situation may not be as bad as the media makes it out to be. Every battle U.S. troops engage in has ended in extremely lopsided victory for our side. The terrorists are being killed and captured by the hundreds. Losses on our side are comparatively negligible. Many of these battlefield successes have come as a result of intelligence provided by everyday Iraqis. The extent of the assistance they regularly provide goes unreported or underreported. The same goes for our reconstruction efforts. These are truly heroic and have provided many Iraqis a provision of basic services unknown before. Media reports, on the other hand, usually focus on what we haven't done.

One excellent exception was provided in an Associated Press article this week ("American Soldier Becomes Iraqi Sheik," Aug. 1, 2005). It profiles Army Staff Sgt. Dale Horn, formerly a field artillery radar operator in Iraq, who was recently crowned honorary "sheik" or village elder by local Iraqi leaders in the area he patrols.

Initially it was considered a joke but due to Sgt. Horn's diligence in trying to understand and assist these villagers, he has earned genuine respect. He has taken an active role in expediting various utility projects and generally made an effort to improve these Iraqis' daily lives.

Now Horn meets monthly with from 100 to 200 village elders from the 37 towns and villages in his AOR to discuss the security situation. The base from which he operates, formerly subject to regular rocket and mortar attacks, has not had a single rocket attack in six months.

Many Soldiers and Marines express frustration that more stories like these never seem to get any press. People at home, seeing only the negative, are getting an unbalanced view of our progress.

So in a very real sense, our failures in Iraq are failures of perception. The only way to counter this is with a more aggressive campaign by the administration to convince the public that we are succeeding and we need to stay. Sadly, this effort has been lacking. Instead the administration seems to be slowly capitulating to the relentlessly negative reporting offered by the mass media. And with mid-term elections coming up they appear to believe that offering an accelerated withdrawal timetable may take off some of the political heat.

We should not be discussing troop withdrawals now. We have had historic successes. We can assure victory with concerted effort and better tactics. But until the terrorists are really gone, until we are confident Iraq is truly secure, we cannot even consider leaving. This has happened too many times in the past.

This time we must stay until the job is done. To do less will trivialize the grave sacrifices of life and limb made by our all-volunteer troops and once again demonstrate our politicians' seemingly limitless willingness to squander those supreme sacrifices for short-term, self-serving political goals.

George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton because he went back on his word and raised taxes. It would indeed be unfortunate if Hillary wins in 2008 because Mr. Bush’s son couldn’t keep his word either.

Read my lips: Politicians who violate their own promises lose big time. Stay the course in Iraq.