Thursday, July 31, 2008

Victory Nullifies Predictions of Defeat

David Kilcullen is a respected counter-insurgency expert. I respect him both for his knowledge and for his desire to win the war in Iraq despite his disapproval of starting the war. That is a refreshingly grown-up attitude rather than insisting on redebating the decision to declare war in 2002 (and yes, that's what the authorization to use force was).

Kilcullen defends himself against a quote that can easily be misread as implying that his disapproval of the war outweighs his desire to win the war.

I want to take exception to one part, however, in Kilcullen's reasoning for opposing the war:

Like every other counterinsurgency professional, I warned against the war in 2002-3 on the grounds that it was likely to be extremely difficult, demand far more resources than our leaders seemed willing to commit, inflame world Muslim opinion making our counterterrorism tasks harder, and entail a significant opportunity cost in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Extremely difficult? When we look back at this war, will we really think that a 5-year struggle with casualties well under Vietnam rates was difficult in historical terms? I'm not dismissing over 4,000 American deaths, mind you. But these deaths did not prevent Americans from sustaining an all-volunteer military to wage it. Further, the Baathists, representing at most 20% of the Iraqi population, were actually defeated by the end of 2003. Who believed such a minority could not eventually be defeated?

What gave the Baathists a new lease on life was their decision to ally with Syrian-supplied jihadis from the Sunni Moslem world and Sadr's Iranian-backed uprising in spring 2004. When few thought we were stopping at Iraq's borders, I don't recall anyone suggesting we had to fear an invasion by Syria and Iran. This is what made the post-war so bloody, not the admittedly well-financed, trained, and well-armed minority Baathists after they lost Baghdad.

As for American resources, despite complaints from the anti-war side about the cost, we have in fact committed the resources--both manpower and money--to get us to this point where Iraq can soon take over the fight with only our combat support and training help.

Regarding Moslem opinion, as I've written elsewhere, only fighting ineffectively inspires resistance. Believing we were the weak horse, jihadis did flock to Iraq. Yet this was effective only because the Baathists could organize them and arm them in 2004. In time, al Qaeda surpassed the Baathists as the main force for Sunni resistance, but could al Qaeda have established themselves in 2004 without Syria and the Iraqi Baathists? In the end, however, the American/Iraqi victory in Iraq has made the jihad there rather less appealing to volunteers.

And the "street" has turned against bin Laden and al Qaeda as the Moslem world has seen jihadis slaughter other Moslems with fanatical glee. Don't forget that Afghanistan seems to have inspired enough jihadis. Was Afghanistan a mistake, too? The Arab world seems to have cooperated with us very nicely, thank you, despite the Iraq War (or maybe because of it in the case of Saudi Arabia which saw al Qaeda turn on the Saudis in frustration).

As for the lost opportunities in Afghanistan and elsewhere? Hogwash. Unless you see the need for 10-15 brigades fighting somewhere outside of Iraq, don't be silly and repeat this distraction tale. We are capable of fighting on more than one front.

Nor would I want to put many more brigades into Afghanistan. We can't easily or cheaply supply them, can't risk them at the end of a supply line through Pakistan, and don't have the same interest as we did in Iraq or even face the same situation. Afghanistan is not Iraq with mountains instead of desert. And most of our enemies aren't even in Afghanistan at this point. Even 45 brigades wouldn't be enough to invade and pacify Pakistan.

Other than Afghanistan, I'm not sure where Kilcullen could think we lost opportunities elsewhere because of Iraq. Iraq became the central focus of the war on terror because al Qaeda decided to make their stand there. Fighting anywhere else would have been a distraction from the war on al Qaeda.

Reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom of destroying the Saddam regime. Kilcullen is surely a reasonable man. And in our successful effort in Iraq, we've surely made mistakes. That's war. And I trust Kilcullen's sincerity and knowledge on the subject. And I trust that Kilcullen would rather win than lose, and does not wish to walk away from Iraq. Indeed, given that an American victory makes his stated reasons for opposing the war incorrect predictions, he displays admirable integrity.

I believe we had to destroy the Saddam regime. Iraq has been no disaster at all and may yet turn into a major victory in the Long War with effects that reach beyond the borders of Iraq. But only if we keep our heads about us and don't walk away from Iraq.