A question for Col. Tom Snodgrass

James Lewis
In his article, "Dealing with the Iraq Insurgency Militarily" (American Thinker, 12/26/06), Col. Tom Snodgrass argues that Iraq is effectively equivalent to Vietnam, where the US military were kept from cutting enemy supply lines, so that North Vietnam and the Vietcong could simply keep up the war long enough to exhaust American domestic support.  If Col. Snodgrass is right in his premises, he would be right in his conclusion that the Iraq War is hopeless. 

Col. Snodgrass defines the enemy as Islamists who are motivated to destroy the West. If that is true, the sensible US response would be a "
Kissinger option" for Iraq, just as we adopted a Kissinger option after the Vietnam war. That is, if the elected Iraqi government with our support cannot protect its citizens, we may have to go along with the current Saudi proposal, and save the Sunnis in Iraq from Shiite vengeance. Regionally, that implies supporting Sunni Arab powers against an Iranian-controlled Shiite coalition.

However, I suggest that such a course would not be justified until we give the elected Iraqi government (which has only had a Parliamentary majority for six months) enough time to try to establish a political balance of forces between the three major factions --- Sunnis, Shi'as and Kurds. Six months is an absurdly short time to establish workable balance of forces, with constant meddling from Iran and Saudi Arabia, to try to reduce the conflict to precisely the Sunni-Shi'a war we are trying to prevent. As Prof. Fred Kagan has argued elsewhere, if the government, with American help, cannot establish basic security in the Baghdad region, and ultimately in the Sunni Triangle, Iraqis will revert to their tribal allegiances for their personal safety.

In that case, a Sunni-Shi'a war may be inevitable. But Kagan suggests that victory is still possible.

Col. Snodgrass suggests that Islamist ideology is the real motivation for people in the region, but that is vastly oversimplified. Iraq has a history of national existence going back to Mesopotamia, and it has an Arab identity as well. Nationalism is a genuine force in the region. Persian control is not popular even among Iraqi Shiites. The Sunni-Shi'a divide is another motivator, tribal and family loyalties another one, and a great urge to modernize and create a successful society by modern standards motivates many Iraqis as well, as we can see from their weblogs. The Arab Middle East has been trying to modernize for two centuries, ever since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798.

So Islamist ideology is by no means the only motivation. The elegant logic of Col. Snodgrass' argument stems from that premise. Given that the premise is debatable, the pessimistic outcome Col. Snodgrass predicts is not yet certain. There is still hope for a better outcome.
In his article, "Dealing with the Iraq Insurgency Militarily" (American Thinker, 12/26/06), Col. Tom Snodgrass argues that Iraq is effectively equivalent to Vietnam, where the US military were kept from cutting enemy supply lines, so that North Vietnam and the Vietcong could simply keep up the war long enough to exhaust American domestic support.  If Col. Snodgrass is right in his premises, he would be right in his conclusion that the Iraq War is hopeless. 

Col. Snodgrass defines the enemy as Islamists who are motivated to destroy the West. If that is true, the sensible US response would be a "
Kissinger option" for Iraq, just as we adopted a Kissinger option after the Vietnam war. That is, if the elected Iraqi government with our support cannot protect its citizens, we may have to go along with the current Saudi proposal, and save the Sunnis in Iraq from Shiite vengeance. Regionally, that implies supporting Sunni Arab powers against an Iranian-controlled Shiite coalition.

However, I suggest that such a course would not be justified until we give the elected Iraqi government (which has only had a Parliamentary majority for six months) enough time to try to establish a political balance of forces between the three major factions --- Sunnis, Shi'as and Kurds. Six months is an absurdly short time to establish workable balance of forces, with constant meddling from Iran and Saudi Arabia, to try to reduce the conflict to precisely the Sunni-Shi'a war we are trying to prevent. As Prof. Fred Kagan has argued elsewhere, if the government, with American help, cannot establish basic security in the Baghdad region, and ultimately in the Sunni Triangle, Iraqis will revert to their tribal allegiances for their personal safety.

In that case, a Sunni-Shi'a war may be inevitable. But Kagan suggests that victory is still possible.

Col. Snodgrass suggests that Islamist ideology is the real motivation for people in the region, but that is vastly oversimplified. Iraq has a history of national existence going back to Mesopotamia, and it has an Arab identity as well. Nationalism is a genuine force in the region. Persian control is not popular even among Iraqi Shiites. The Sunni-Shi'a divide is another motivator, tribal and family loyalties another one, and a great urge to modernize and create a successful society by modern standards motivates many Iraqis as well, as we can see from their weblogs. The Arab Middle East has been trying to modernize for two centuries, ever since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798.

So Islamist ideology is by no means the only motivation. The elegant logic of Col. Snodgrass' argument stems from that premise. Given that the premise is debatable, the pessimistic outcome Col. Snodgrass predicts is not yet certain. There is still hope for a better outcome.