July 24, 2007
The Surge SucceedsBy J.R. Dunn
God looks after children, drunkards, and the United States of America
- Otto von Bismarck
It's now quite clear how the results of the surge will be dealt with by domestic opponents of the Iraq war.
They're going to be ignored.
They're being ignored now. Virtually no media source or Democratic politician (and not a few Republicans, led by Richard "I can always backtrack" Lugar) is willing to admit that the situation on the ground has changed dramatically over the past three months. Coalition efforts have undergone a remarkable reversal of fortune, a near-textbook example as to how an effective strategy can overcome what appear to be overwhelming drawbacks.
Anbar is close to being secured, thanks to the long-ridiculed strategy of recruiting local sheiks. A capsule history of war coverage could be put together from stories on this topic alone - beginning with sneers, moving on to "evidence" that it would never work, to the puzzled pieces of the past few months admitting that something was happening, and finally the recent stories expressing concern that the central government might be "offended" by the attention being paid former Sunni rebels. (Try to find another story in the legacy media worrying about the feelings of the Iraqi government.) What you will not find is any mention of the easily-grasped fact that Anbar acts as a blueprint for the rest of the country. If the process works there, it will work elsewhere. If it works in other areas, that means the destruction of the Jihadis in detail.
Nor is that all. Diyala province, promoted in media as the "new Al-Queda stronghold" appears to have become a death-trap. The Jihadis can neither defend it nor abandon it. The Coalition understood that Diyala was where the Jihadis would flee when the heat came down in Baghdad, and they were ready for them. A major element of surge strategy - and one reason why the extra infantry brigades were needed - is to pressure Jihadis constantly in all their sanctuaries, allowing them no time to rest or regroup.
A blizzard of operations is occurring throughout central Iraq under the overall code-name Phantom Thunder, the largest operation since the original invasion. It is open-ended, and will continue as long as necessary. Current ancillary operations include Arrowhead Ripper, which is securing the city of Baqubah in Diyala province. Operation Alljah is methodically clearing out every last neighborhood in Fallujah. In Babil province, southeast of Baghdad, operations Marne Torch and Commando Eagle are underway. (As this was being written, yet another spinoff operation, Marne Avalanche, began in Northern Babil.)
The Coalition has left the treadmill in which one step of progress seemed to unavoidably lead to two steps back. It requires some time to discover the proper strategy in any war. A cursory glance at 1943 would have given the impression of disaster. Kasserine, in which the German Wehrmacht nearly split Allied forces in Tunisia and sent American GIs running. Tarawa, where over 1,600 U.S. Marines died on a sunny afternoon thanks to U.S. Navy overconfidence. Salerno, where the Allied landing force was very nearly pushed back into the sea. But all these incidents, as bitter as they may have been, were necessary to develop the proper techniques that led to the triumphs of 1944 and 1945.
Someday, 2006 may be seen as Iraq's 1943. It appears that Gen. David Petreaus has discovered the correct strategy for Iraq: engaging the Jihadis all over the map as close to simultaneously as possible. Keeping them on the run constantly, giving them no place to stand, rest or refit. Increasing operational tempo to an extent that they cannot match ("Getting inside their decision cycle", as the 4th generation warfare school would call it), leaving them harried, uncertain, and apt to make mistakes.
The surge is more of a refinement than a novelty. Earlier Coalition efforts were not in error as much as they were incomplete. American troops would clean out an area, turn it over to an Iraqi unit, and depart. The Jihadis would then push out the unseasoned Iraqis and return to business. This occurred in Fallujah, Tall Afar, and endless times in Ramadi.
Now U.S. troops are remaining on site, which reassures the locals and encourages cooperation. The Jihadis broke (and more than likely never knew) the cardinal rule of insurgency warfare, that of being a good guest. As Mao put it, "The revolutionary must be as a fish among the water of the peasantry." The Jihadis have been lampreys to the Iraqi people. Proselytizing, forcing adaptation of their reactionary creed, engaging in torture, kidnapping, and looting. Arabic culture is one in which open dealings, personal loyalty, and honor are at a premium. Violate any of them, and there is no way back. The Jihadis violated them all. The towns and cities of Iraq are no longer sanctuaries.
The results have begun to come in. On July 4, Khaled al-Mashhadani, the most senior Iraqi in Al-Queda, was captured in Mosul. On July 14, Abu Jurah, a senior Al-Queda leader in the area south of Baghdad, was killed in a coordinated strike by artillery, helicopters, and fighter-bombers. These blows to the leadership are the direct outgrowth of Jihadi brutality and the new confidence among the Iraqis in what they have begun to call the "al-Ameriki tribe".
We will see more of this in the weeks ahead. The Jihadis have come up with no effective counterstrategy, and the old methods have begun to lose mana. The last massive truck-bomb attack occurred not in Baghdad, but in a small Diyala village that defied Al-Queda. An insurgency in the position of using its major weapons to punish noncombatants is not in a winning situation.
You will look long and hard to find any of this in the legacy media. Apart from a handful of exceptions (such as John F. Burns of the New York Times), it's simply not being covered. Those operational names would come across as bizarre to the average reader, the gains they have made impossible to fit into the worldview that has been peddled unceasingly by the dead tree fraternity. What the media is concentrating on - and will to continue to concentrate on, in defiance of sense, protest, and logic, to the bitter end - is peripheral stories such as the Democrat's Senate pajama party, reassertions of the claim that the war has "helped" Al-Queda, and the latest proclamation from the world's greatest fence-sitter.
The situation as it stands is very close to that of the final phase of Vietnam. Having for several years confused that country's triple-layer jungle with the rolling plains of northwest Europe, William Westmoreland in 1968 turned over command to Creighton Abrams. Though also a veteran of the advance against Germany (he had been Patton's favorite armored commander), Abrams lacked his predecessor's taste for vast (not to mention futile) multi-unit sweeps. After carrying out a careful analysis, Abrams reworked Allied strategy to embody the counterinsurgency program advocated by Marine general Victor Krulak and civilian advisor John Paul Vann.
Abram's war was one of small units moving deep into enemy territory, running down enemy forces and then calling in massive American firepower in the form of artillery or fighter-bombers for the final kill.(Anyone wishing for a detailed portrayal of this style of operations should pick up David Hackworth's Steel My Soldiers' Hearts. It will surprise no one to learn that Hackworth claims that the strategy was his idea and that he had to fight the entire U.S. military establishment to see it through, but it's a good read all the same.) This was a strategy that played to American strengths, one that went after the enemy where he lived. By 1970, Abrams had chased the bulk of the Vietnamese communists across the border into Cambodia and Laos.
But Vietnam also had its ruling narrative, one that had no room for successful combat operations. That narrative had been born in 1968, at the time of the Tet offensive. Tet was a nationwide operation intended by North Vietnamese commander Nguyen Vo Giap to encourage the Vietnamese people to join with the Viet Cong and PAVN in overthrowing the government. It was an utter rout, with the communists losing something in the order of 60,000 men. The Viet Cong were crippled as a military force, and never did recover.
But panicky reporters, many of whom had never set foot on a battlefield (not to mention figures at ease with manipulating the facts, such as Peter Arnett), were badly shaken by the opening moves of the offensive, among them an abortive attack on the U.S. embassy grounds at Saigon. Their reportage, broadcast and printed nationwide, portrayed a miserable defeat for the U.S. and its allies, with the Viet Cong and PAVN striking where they pleased and making off at their leisure. The media portrait of a beleaguered American war effort was never corrected, and became the consensus view. (This process was analyzed in detail in Peter Braestrup's Big Story, one of the most crucial -- and overlooked -- media studies ever to see print.) After Tet, there could be no victories.
The success of the Abrams strategy was buried for twenty years and more, as the myth of utter U.S. defeat was put in concrete by "experts" such as Stanley Karnow, Frances FitzGerald, and Neil Sheehan. Only with the appearance of revisionist works such as Lewis Sorley's A Better War and Mark Moyar's Triumph Forsaken has the record begun to be set straight.
That was how it was played at the close of the Vietnam War. That's how it's being played today.
And what do they want, exactly? What is the purpose of playing so fast and loose with the public safety, national security, and human lives both American and foreign?
Generally, when someone repeats a formula, it's because they want to repeat a result. And that's what the American left wants in this case. During the mid-70s, American liberals held political control to an extent they had not experienced since the heyday of FDR. The GOP was disgraced and demoralized. The Democrats held the Senate, the House, and the presidency. There was absolutely nothing standing in the way of their maintaining complete power for as long as anyone could foresee... until Jimmy Carter's incompetence proved itself, which caused the whole shabby and illusory structure to fell apart in a welter of ineptitude and childishness.
The American left wants a return to the 1970s -- without Jimmy Carter. (Okay, without disco, either.) They want a cowed GOP. They want control of the institutions and the branches. They want a miserable, defeated country they can manipulate. And they want it all under the gaze not of the Saint of Plains, but of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who can assure that left-wing predominance will continue for a generation or more.
Will they get it? That's a question worth some thought. Because as it stands, neither of the program's necessary elements is coming to fruition. The war is not being lost, and their great political scandal has fizzled.
The other half of the equation was Watergate. Vietnam would not have been anywhere near as much a disaster without it. Watergate paralyzed the Nixon administration. It turned Nixon himself from an odd, unlikable, but incredibly capable politician to a half-crazed ghost sobbing in the Oval office in the middle of the night. It transformed his last great triumph -- the Paris peace accords that ended the war on an acceptable standoff -- into ashes. The left wing of the Democratic Party, shepherded by people like George McGovern and Mark Hatfield, proceeded to undercut the settlement as quickly as they could manage. Two separate appropriations acts passed in June 1973 cut off all further aid to the countries of Southeast Asia. (A third such act passed in August 1974 has gained more attention but it only duplicated the effects of the first two.) From that point on it was a matter of time. Nixon resigned a little over a year later. Less than a year after that, in April 1975, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia all fell.
(The price tag for this, which liberals don't care to bring up, was over 2 million dead in Cambodia, 165,000 dead in Vietnam, another 200,000 plus drowned and murdered on the high seas during the exodus of the boat people. Laotian numbers can only be estimated but must have been in the thousands. The price of Indochinese "peace" was nearly twice that of the war itself.)
And that, in case you were wondering, is what Plamegate was about. The Democrats needed a scandal - and not merely a run-of-the-mill, everyday scandal, but a mega-scandal, a hyper-scandal, something that would utterly cripple the administration and leave it open to destruction in detail. The targets were Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, held by the MoveOn crowd to be the actual brains behind Adolf W. Chimp. When nothing at all could be dug up on the administration principals, the scandal was effectively over. Knocking off a vice-presidential aide might cause excitement within the Beltway, but nobody in the real world could be expected to care. It may be a bitter thought to I. Lewis Libby that he was taken down through sheer proximity, like a bystander during a drive-by shooting, but it was in the very best of causes. Libby's sacrifice not only saved the administration, it may well save tens of thousands of Middle Eastern lives in the years to come. (This also explains why the President was so circumspect in dealing with the investigation - he knew exactly what the opposition was up to, and could afford to give them no ammunition whatsoever.)
Plamegate ended last Thursday with a judge throwing Plame's suit out of court on strictly technical grounds. (This is something of a disappointment - I would really have liked to see what that pair of hustlers would do when cross-examined by a competent defense attorney.) People like John Conyers are trying to create a conflagration by blowing on the embers of the attorney firings and the vice-presidential subpoenas. To no avail. Scandals, like forest fires, occur only when conditions are perfect. Through their failed efforts, the liberals have in effect set a backfire, surrounding the administration with wide barriers of burned-over ground. The Democrats themselves have rendered Bush unassailable, and all the slumber parties, the empty votes, and the rhetoric are intended to camouflage that fact. Bush will have hard days yet, but he will not be Nixonized. He will be able to fight his war as he sees fit.
That means a continuation of the surge, and of the strategy of General Petreaus. Will that be enough? It's impossible to say. But the past few months have been the most surprising in the entire Iraq saga to date. I have a feeling that Al-Queda (and the media, and the Democrats), will have a few more surprises coming in the months ahead.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.