President Bush's long—delayed strategic offensive in the information war front of the War on Terror continues. Yesterday, recalling the 64th anniversary of Pearl Harbor that plunged this country into World War Two, as well as the 21st century 'Pearl Harbor' of 9/11, President Bush delivered a speech before the Council On Foreign Relations. It was the second of his Victory In Iraq presentations, begun November 30 at the U.S. Naval Academy, which will explain United States strategy.
As President Bush outlined in his Naval Academy speech, that strategy has three elements: political, security and economic. It is an integrated strategy whose elements are mutually reinforcing, and one that is flexible and adaptable. On the economic side, the President explained:
We're helping the Iraqis rebuild their infrastructure, reform their economy, and build their prosperity that will give all Iraqis a stake in a free and peaceful Iraq.
After recapitulating the essence of his first speech, President Bush got down to the subject of Victory In Iraq, Part Two:
Today, I'm going to talk about how we're working with Iraqi security forces and Iraqi's leaders to improve security and restore order to help Iraqis rebuild cities and to help the national government in Baghdad revitalize Iraq's infrastructure and economy. [Italics mine]
As examples of working with Iraqis to improve security and restore order, he cited the situations in Najaf and Mosul.
The predominately Shia city of Najaf suffered greatly under Saddam. Years of shoddy maintenance crippled its infrastructure and basic services. Thousands of its residents were murdered in a 1991 crackdown. From its 2003 liberation through the summer of 2004, Najaf had fallen under the sway of the violent Sadr militia before having coalition and government forces re—establish order there. Working with local Shia clerics, the Imam Ali Shrine was cleared of militia thugs, who then agreed to disarm. In his speech, President Bush described what happened next:
As soon as the fighting in Najaf ended, targeted reconstruction moved forward. The Iraqi government played an active role, and so did our military commanders and diplomats and workers from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Together, they worked with Najaf's governor and other local officials to rebuild the local police force, repair residents' homes, refurbish schools, restore water and other essential services, reopen a soccer stadium, complete with new lights and fresh sod. Fifteen months later, new businesses and markets have opened in some of Najaf's poorest areas, religious pilgrims are visiting the city again, construction jobs are putting local residents back to work. One of the largest projects was the rebuilding of the Najaf Teaching Hospital, which had been looted and turned into a military fortress by the militia. Thanks to the efforts by Iraqi doctors and local leaders, and with the help of American personnel, the hospital is now open and capable of serving hundreds of patients each day.
Najaf is now in the hands of elected government officials. An elected provincial council is at work —— drafting plans to bring more tourism and commerce to the city. Political life has returned, and campaigns for the upcoming elections have begun, with different parties competing for the vote. The Iraqi police are now responsible for day—to—day security in Najaf. An Iraqi battalion has consumed [sic] control of the former American military base, and our forces are now about 40 minutes outside the city.
A U.S. Army sergeant explains our role this way: "We go down there if they call us. And that doesn't happen very often. Usually, we just stay out of their way." Residents of Najaf are also seeing visible progress —— and they have no intention of returning to the days of tyranny and terror. One man from Najaf put it this way: "Three years ago we were in ruins. One year ago we were fighting in the streets ... [Now] look at the people shopping and eating and not in fear."
As he does elsewhere in his speech, the President doesn't gloss over the difficulties facing not just Najaf, but other cities in Iraq. 'Like most of Iraq, the reconstruction in Najaf has proceeded with fits and starts since liberation,' he said. He cited electric power and clean water shortages. Kidnappings and violence still occur. But, 'Local leaders and Iraqi security forces are confronting these problems and we're helping them.'
The city of Mosul, home to a diverse population of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and others, was relatively quiet in the period following liberation, so US forces re—deployed elsewhere. Terrorists and Saddamists moved in and by late 2004 had gained control of much of the city, launching a series of car bombings and ambushes. One attack killed 14 American soldiers in a mess tent. Innocent civilians were murdered with threatening notes pinned to their bodies. Then, as President Bush explained:
American and Iraqi forces responded with a series of coordinated strikes on the most dangerous parts of the city. Together we killed, captured, and cleared out many of the terrorists and Saddamists —— and we helped the Iraqi police and legitimate political leaders regain control of the city. As the Iraqis have grown in strength and ability, they have taken more responsibility for Mosul's security —— and coalition forces have moved into a supporting role.
As security in Mosul improved, we began working with local leaders to accelerate reconstruction. Iraqis upgraded key roads and bridges over the Tigris River, rebuilt schools and hospitals, and started refurbishing the Mosul Airport. Police stations and firehouses were rebuilt, and Iraqis have made major improvements in the city's water and sewage network.
Mosul still faces real challenges. Like Najaf, Mosul's infrastructure was devastated during Saddam's reign. The city is still not receiving enough electricity, so Iraqis have a major new project underway to expand the Mosul power substation. Terrorist intimidation is still a concern. This past week, people hanging election posters were attacked and killed. Yet freedom is taking hold in Mosul, and residents are making their voices heard. Turnout in the —— for the October referendum was over 50 percent in the province where Mosul is located. That's more than triple the turnout in the January election. And there's heavy campaigning going on in Mosul for next week's election.
In places like Mosul and Najaf, residents are seeing tangible progress in their lives. They're gaining a personal stake in a peaceful future, and their confidence in Iraq's democracy is growing. The progress of these cities is being replicated across much of Iraq —— and more of Iraq's people are seeing the real benefits that a democratic society can bring.
He went on to say that Iraq is suffering from problems such as corruption; that its security forces have been infiltrated by militias; that a Commission of Public Integrity has been established and higher standards of police recruiting have been emplaced.
Like early Coalition approaches to other problems, the manner of helping the country rebuild has changed and improved. More resources were allocated to fund smaller, local projects that could deliver 'rapid, noticeable improvements, and offer an alternative to the destructive vision of the terrorists.' And though reconstruction hasn't always gone as well as hoped, much has been accomplished in two and a—half years. Nearly 3,000 schools have been renovated, more than 30,000 teachers trained, and 8 million textbooks distributed. An irrigation infrastructure servicing 400,000 Iraqis has been rebuilt and drinking water for 3 million people improved.
Our Coalition has helped Iraqis introduce a new currency, reopen their stock exchange, extend $21 million in micro—credit and small business loans to Iraqi entrepreneurs. As a result of these efforts and Iraq's newfound freedom, more than 30,000 new Iraqi businesses have registered since liberation. And according to a recent survey, more than three—quarters of Iraqi business owners anticipate growth in the national economy over the next two years.
This economic development and growth will be really important to addressing the high unemployment rate across parts of that country. Iraq's market—based reforms are gradually returning the proud country to the global economy. Iraqis have negotiated significant debt relief. And for the first time in 25 years, Iraq has completed an economic report card with the International Monetary Fund —— a signal to the world financial community that Iraqis are serious about reform and determined to take their rightful place in the world economy.
With all these improvements, we're helping the Iraqi government deliver meaningful change for the Iraqi people. This is another important blow against the Saddamists and the terrorists. Iraqis who were disillusioned with their situation are beginning to see a hopeful future for their country. Many who once questioned democracy are coming off the fence; they're choosing the side of freedom. This is quiet, steady progress. It doesn't always make the headlines in the evening news. But it's real, and it's important, and it is unmistakable to those who see it close up.
In closing, President Bush quoted the words of Zawahiri, in a letter to Zarqawi, regarding his goals for Iraq:
Expel the Americans from Iraq, establish an Islamic authority over as much territory as you can to spread its power (to) extend the jihad wave.
The Al Qaeda in Iraq terror leader cited Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia as examples of American retreats; humbling incidents for so powerful a nation.
And now the terrorists think they can make America run in Iraq...that's not going to happen so long as I'm the Commander—in—Chief.
He reminded his audience and all Americans that victory in Iraq
will require continued sacrifice by our men and women in uniform, and the continued determination of our citizens...I reject the pessimists in Washington who say we can't win this war...every day we can be confident of the outcome because we know that freedom has got the power to overcome terror and tyranny. We can be confident of the outcome because we know the character and strength of the men and women in the fight...we will continue to hunt down terrorists wherever they hide. We will help the Iraqi people build a free society in the heart of that troubled region. And by laying the foundations of freedom in Iraq and across the broader Middle East, we will lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.
The Victory In Iraq information warfare offensive has begun. It must and will continue with President Bush's next speech. More should be done. Perhaps the White House and Pentagon could launch a Victory in Iraq website with all the speeches on Iraq and the war on terror archived there. It could have separate sections on each of the strategy's three elements, or 'pillars.' There might be photos illustrating successes and achievements.
Take the contents of Multi—National Force Iraq's Scimitar newspaper and This Week In Iraq and deliver them directly to the American people; make that information available in different formats. This would be just one aspect of the multi—media campaign which would promote the strategy and the Coalition's ongoing progress in Iraq. Like the strategy itself, it would be mutually reinforcing.
How about material about Soldier Stories, to include heroes who have earned the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross and Silver Star. Why not CDs and DVDs and pamphlets and books and documentaries and movies? Subject matter: the American warriors of Operation Iraqi Freedom and its subsequent phases. Produce a separate effort highlighting the ever more capable and independent Iraqi police, security and Army forces. Make it easier for American media outlets to acquire source material on all of these subjects so they can guard their independence while reporting more than what they encounter in the Baghdad Green Zone.
Deploy speakers. Flood the zone with op/eds and TV and radio spots and guest appearances by administration personnel. The momentum is now palpable. It has to be sustained until final victory in Iraq is achieved. Remember what former 4th Psychological Operations Group commander, Colonel James Treadwell once said: 'Truth is the best propoganda.'
John B. Dwyer is a military historian and a frequent contributor.