ONE OF THE KEYS to defeating any guerrilla movement is to cut off its outside support. That is what the United States managed to accomplish in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902 but spectacularly failed to do in South Vietnam, where communist fighters benefited right up until the end from the Ho Chi Minh Trail leading to havens in North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Today, even as the U.S. is making considerable progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are failing to isolate the battlefield. The extremists attacking U.S. forces and our allies continue to receive sanctuary and support from neighboring states, notably Pakistan and Syria. It is, of course, difficult to close any border, but we could do more by going to the source of the trouble.
This is a big problem. And we have different problems to solve. To protect Afghanistan, the problem is an ally, Pakistan, that we think is too shaky to prod more than we have to shut down the lawless frontier regions across from Afghanistan. Iran is a lesser problem for Afghanistan security issues.
In Iraq, Iran is a longer term problem but the immediate foreign problem is Syria, which is a hostile state that is feeding money and jihadis into Iraq. We aren't putting more pressure on Damascus because ... Ok, so I share Boot's confusion on this. Syria is hostile, actively aiding those who kill our soldiers and hundreds if not thousands of Iraqi civilians. We should be doing something about this. To be fair, the something may be the French-American effort centered on Lebanon. But to be realistic, I don't count on the French at all.
And note that Boot does not call for simply lining the border with troops to interdict the movement of the enemy. As I noted here, this is not really possible or likely to do much good:
I've said from early on that this insurgency by a small minority is only so persistent because it has access to plentiful money and arms stockpiled inside Iraq prior to the invasion. The normal practice of sealing the border to prevent such assets from getting inside don't work in Iraq since those assets are already inside Iraq. Putting 20,000 troops along the border would be a waste of effort and would either subtract troops from other missions in the interior if we didn't add them to the current force or would further stress our military if we had increased our troops strength in Iraq for this mission.
So while I don't know how we pressure Pakistan more without risking making things worse, I don't understand why Syria does not fear tangling with us. We keep reminding the Syrians that Iraq will be in the region for a long time and will remember what Syria is doing when Iraq is far more powerful, but this is a long-range threat.
So far, the Damascus eye doctor has read the writing on the wall and it tells him he has little to fear from American threats.
Boy Assad needs to fear the consequences of killing our soldiers more than he fears the threat of a democratic Iraq next door. When he gets to the bottom line of the chart, he needs to read WE'RE COMING FOR YOU. And believe it.
Assad and his cronies play for time, so while Iraqi democracy is a long-term threat to his rule, we must make sure that aiding the Iraqi insurgency is a short-term threat to his rule. Only when those are the choices will Assad do what we need.