Saturday, May 26, 2007

We Need to Win Phase VII Too

The Iraq War will continue even if the Congress succeeds in "ending the war." They can do no such thing--they can only end our efforts to win it and our efforts to fight it. We must make sure that Congressional support does not erode so far that we can't win the war regardless of how long it takes.

I wrote in an Iraq SITREP that our current Phase VI in the war following earlier phases described here will not last much more than spring 2008. We've won a great deal and overcame setbacks:

With all this in mind, we are now debating the form of Phase VI. It began this month and will likely be the last phase dominated by American combat operations. I estimate it will last no more than sixteen months.

I wrote that in December. Whether Congress mandates retreat or not, we will face pressure to start pulling out in 2008. Maybe that pressure will be resisted until fall 2008, but we will start to pull out. Perhaps it will only be a brigade per month actually deploying back to their bases, but we will pull back from offensive combat faster.

Then we will need to prepare to participate in Phase VII of the war where we help the Iraqis finish off their enemies with the government and security forces we helped them build:

Phase VII will be the Iraq phase with the Iraqi government taking the lead in fighting the insurgents. We will supply air power, special forces, and keep at least seven brigades of troops inside Iraq to deter conventional invasion. I only question the pace of our draw down in this phase. The main question is whether we break Sadr's forces and the other Shia extremists and make the Iraqi government's task easier. The second question is whether Syria and Iran will continue to support their side, perhaps escalating to direct intervention. The third question is whether the government will win by winning hearts and minds or by slaughtering enemies. This phase will last as long as it takes one side or the other to win. Iraqis can't go home. It will be victory or death and on this struggle will depend our image for resolve in the Long War. And whether Iraq serves as a beacon of hope for others or simply reflects the realist-level goal of flipping an enemy Baathist state to a friendly authoritarian state.

In 1974 and 1975, our withdrawal had been delayed long enough to poison the chance we could do the same for South Vietnam. So given the predictable path of our loyal opposition, I have to say that reality argues for pulling out sooner than we might like to based on pure military factors.

Even if the fight is tougher by pulling out of the direct fight too soon, it would be better for us to pull out with enough support at home to back the Iraqi government than to fight a little longer and destroy the will to fight a longer war.

We will need to keep special forces to help kill al Qaeda. And we will need air power to support the Iraqis and logistics troops, too. And all the other combat support and combat service support functions that we are trying to build. Plus a cavalry regiment to screen the Iranian border and several brigade combat teams as a reserve and to deter the Iranians. Add a battalion task force in Kuwait, an afloat MEU, and several brigade sets of Army equipment and an afloat Marine set, and we'd have a potent force tethered to the defense of Iraq. Add, too, a parachute brigade in Italy and a Stryker brigade in Europe that can be flown into the area quickly. And yes, I've downgraded my assessment of what Congress will allow to remain in Iraq from a seven brigades to four with unit sets of prepositioned equipment to bring us up to seven or more by flying in troops. Oh, and add FBI help to fight corruption and other civilian assets to help the courts and the entire rule of law project.

We've defeated each main threat in Iraq since March 2003, as I wrote in that Iraq SITREP post:

We've fought off many threats. Don't lose hope people. In the broad sweep of the war, we are making progress. We faced setbacks in Phase III yet emerged in a stronger position to make real gains in Phase IV. We faced a different struggle in Phase V that we have not yet defeated, but it is not defeat for us by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, it is ugly in Iraq. I've never denied that. It is war. But that is what makes me avoid gloom. War is death and misery and tears. The only good thing is that we should fight to create something better out of that death and misery and plentiful tears. Who can doubt our Civil War produced far more of it all? Who can say we didn't create something far better? We can say the same for World War II. We can say the same for Korea. We can say the same for Afghanistan though that fight continues, too. I think we will be able to say the same about Iraq when we look back on it.

But all this will be for naught if we pull out too late and exhaust our will to defend our interests in the region in the Phase VII of this war. If you doubt this is possible, please recall the actual history of the defeat of South Vietnam in 1975 (tip to Powerline). Congress cut off funding for the war and refused to let our nearby forces help the South Vietnamese government fight the Hanoi invasion. It wasn't about protecting American troops who were no longer even in South Vietnam--it was all about ensuring an American defeat. And death and misery on an industrial scale followed in the bloody wake of that shameful abandonment of allies who were willing to fight even when we were not.

I hate to write this way, especially on the heels of the appropriations victory regarding Iraq, but that's the reality of the situation.

Our loyal opposition won't let us analyze this war objectively. They want to lose this war and are limited only by the state of public opinion. We have been in a race between defeating our enemies and defeating ourselves since fall 2003. We have to look ahead to the entire race and not just our portion. In Vietnam, we won our part of the race. But we stayed long enough to give a defeatist Congress the strength to forbid the South Vietnamese from finishing that race. I don't have the answer to this question. We have to draw down soon enough to preserve residual support for finishing the war but not so fast that we hinder the ability of the Iraqis to take the lead. And whenever we pull back (not out completely), we must not look like we are retreating or sound like it back home.

I still think we will win this race, but I'm not happy to have to fight a two-front campaign just for one war.