Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Frederick W. Kagan, in an article entitled "Winning One Battle, Fighting the Next" that appeared in the Weekly Standard online suggests that we have the momentum in Iraq and need to seize the opportunity that affords us.

America needs to be heartened by our success in Iraq, and seize a victory.

How did we achieve this success? Before the surge began, American forces in Iraq had attempted to fight al Qaeda primarily with the sort of intelligence-driven, targeted raids that many advocates of immediate withdrawal claim they want to continue. Those efforts failed. Our skilled soldiers captured and killed many al Qaeda leaders, including Abu Musab al Zarqawi, but the terrorists were able to replace them faster than we could kill them. Success came with a new strategy.

Al Qaeda’s brutal tactics against local Sunnis caused area leaders to reconsider their loyalties. But without American help, resistance was futile, because any leaders who spoke out against the takfiris were tortured and murdered. The Sunnis needed the American military muscle to protect their populace, and the Americans needed the intelligence that the Sunnis were able to provide in order to run al Qaeda to ground.

But the American forces that were available then weren’t sufficient in number to make the gains permanent, and the "surge" was required so that commanders would have the resources to operate multiple simultaneous and consecutive operations to make sure terrorists were under constant pressure to run and hide instead of attack civilians and coalition forces. When al Qaeda operatives went on the run, the combination of locals cooperating with the additional American forces made it impossible for them to get where they wanted to go. They were cut off from their safe havens, captured, killed and otherwise decimated.

And so that battle was won, but there are more battles to fight in this "long war".

Some now say that, although America's soldiers were successful in this task, the next battle is hopeless. We cannot control the Shia militias, they say. The Iraqis will never "reconcile." The government will not make the decisions it must make to sustain the current progress, and all will collapse. Perhaps. But those who now proclaim the hopelessness of future efforts also ridiculed the possibility of the success we have just achieved. If one predicts failure long enough, one may turn out to be right. But the credibility of the prophets of doom--those who questioned the veracity and integrity of General David Petraeus when he dared to report progress--is at a low ebb.

There is a long struggle ahead in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere against al Qaeda and its allies in extremism. We can still lose. American forces and Afghan allies defeated al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001 as completely as we are defeating it in Iraq. But mistakes and a lack of commitment by both the United States and the NATO forces to whom we handed off responsibility have allowed a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan. We must not repeat that mistake in Iraq where the stakes are so much higher. America must not try to pocket the success we have achieved in Iraq and declare a premature and meaningless victory. Instead, let us be heartened by success. We have avoided for the moment a terrible danger and created a dramatic opportunity. Let's seize it.

In September I posted in this blog about the possibility that we had fought and won the Battle of Gettysburg in the Iraq conflict and had in fact turned the corner and started to move toward victory. I cited Mr. Kagan as my principal source in "The Gettysburg of This War" which appeared in the National Review Online. I agree with him, that we’ve made innumerable and costly mistakes in Iraq that have nearly brought us to disaster. But we’ve learned from those mistakes and our troops have been persistent and successful in earning a great victory.

One of the biggest mistakes we could have made was to heed the Democrats (and al Qaeda propagandists) who insisted that America had lost the war and we needed to withdraw immediately to cut our losses. Because we didn’t listen to the voices of defeat, opportunities now abound for continued success if we press forward.

Hat tip: Dafydd ab Hugh at Big Lizards.