Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Timing is Everything

Even as war supporters are giving in to panic over Iraq, our new approach is paying dividends. Even the BBC (tip to Instpaundit) reflects on my comments that it is downright embarassing to counsel retreat even as we kick the snot out of the enemy in Iraq.

Yet one thing that even supporters of the war and surge say continues to bug me. They say that "finally" we are fighting the right way. That is, what is right now would have been more right years ago. But would it have been?

Consider that the success we are having relies on the government having sufficient trained forces to help us, relies on the Sunni Arabs knowing they can't win and getting sick of the jihadis and their death threats, and relies on the Shias getting sick of the violence and not supporting Sadr and his Iranian sponsors in numbers sufficient to be a threat.

If we had surged troops and changed to a strategy of directly protecting the people of Iraq rather than trying to be the spearhead, could this have worked a year ago? Or two years ago?

Two years ago and even a year ago, we weren't far enough along in training Iraqi forces to be able to use them alongside our forces. The Iraqis aren't as good as us but they are good enough now. Even in the fall, Iraqi units earmarked for Baghdad didn't show up in more than partial strength.

Further, would the Iraqisecurity forces have progressed as much as they have if we had Americanized the fight a year or two ago and let the Iraqis believe we'd fight and die instead of them?

The Sunni Arabs knew by fall 2005 that they'd lost the war, but they started fleeing Iraq instead of staying to fight the jihadis. Only in the last eight months can it be said that the Sunni Arabs finally tired of jihadi violence and started to side with us to fight al Qaeda in Iraq.

As for Sadr, after surviving his twin uprisings in 2004, he gained popularity. But after nearly three years of showing that his guys are as corrupt as any other group, and half a year proving he is a stooge of Iran, Sadr has lost much of his power and ability to lead a revolt of Shias.

If we had insisted on using current methods a year ago or two years ago, I think we would not have achieved the same succees we are seeing now. And we'd have speeded up that Washington clock much earlier, leading politicians here to urge retreat much sooner than they are. As it was, the loyal opposition went into the November 2006 elections claiming they wanted to win the war. They waited until after the elections to push for defeat. Would they have waited if that Washington clock had been accelerated a year or two earlier?

We've gone through many phases of this war. We are in another phase which calls for new approaches and we have embarked upon a new course to fit the new situation. Just because this phase now calls for the methods we have adopted doesn't mean those methods were right for the past.

Invading Normandy in 1942 would have been folly. In 1943 it would have been desperate. In 1945 it would have been too late. In 1944, it worked.

In time, this surge phase of the war will wind down and we'll need to win a new phase in which we help a stronger Iraq defeat a weakened mosaic of enemies.