Our Sunni friends

Diplomacy has rarely been able to gain at the conference table what cannot be gained or held on the battlefield

— Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, Chief of Staff to Gen. D.D. Eisenhower

This past week the brave Iraqi people have changed the geo—political balance of power in the Middle East and advanced the cause of freedom.  Our deepest gratitude also goes out to the President, who stayed the course, and our superb men and women in our armed forces, whose tenacity and fighting spirit paved the way for this ground—breaking achievement.

Why then does the US high command seemingly continue to undercut our strategy by negotiating with an enemy that we were, and still are, fully capable of dealing with on the battlefield?  A report in The Washington Times says that the top US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, had decided months ago to negotiate with 'insurgent' groups in an effort to stop the violence on election day.  In return, the US agreed to halt all 'offensive operations' against insurgent elements.  This arrangement was

...met with resistance from several of his fellow officers.  It was then decided to make no public statement, but simply to act on the new orders in secret.

A key element of our strategy does, in fact, call for engaging the Sunni rejectionists in order to encourage their participation in the political process, since intelligence indicates that many of the rejectionists increasingly are deciding to support a democratic Iraq.  On the other hand, most Saddam loyalists and Baathists are highly unlikely to get involved in the electoral process, and must therefore be marginalized and eliminated, primarily by the new Iraqi Army.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, senior spokesman for the Coalition in Baghdad, is also the point man in establishing relations with the Sunni rejectionists.  US officials were quick to point out that the pre—election talks were aimed at Sunni nationalists; not those with 'blood on their hands.'  Nevertheless, the article said that,

The new negotiating rules allowed for discussions with Ba'ath Party officers and officials from the former Saddam Hussein regime —— even if they were full—fledged members of insurgent groups. [emphasis added]

No wonder some senior officers strongly disagreed with these negotiations.  Including Saddam loyalists and Baathists in the talks not only runs counter to our national strategy, but it halts offensive operations, some of which may have been on the verge of destroying former regime elements and other insurgent units. 

The US military command in Baghdad leaving the door open to Baath Party officials from Saddam's regime is actually nothing new.  The current negotiations simply repeat the pattern of US contacts with our enemies since we occupied Iraq.

As Saddam's guerrilla army began to flex its muscles two years ago, a strange role reversal took place: the upper echelons of the military command became the peace brokers, while the civilian diplomats took the hard—line approach when dealing with Sunnis and Baathists.  Civilian governance sections refused to negotiate with the enemy and tried to enforce Coalition Provisional Authority head Bremer's strict de—Baathification order.  Bremer's number one priority was security, primarily a military task.

Despite clear guidance from Bremer, former Saddam—era generals were placed in command of Iraqi Army units in Fallujah and Mosul by a few US military commanders.  Both experiments failed, and subsequent further major combat operations were required to defeat the troops commanded by Saddam's supposedly 'rehabilitated' cronies.  If the operations in Fallujah and Mosul against resurrected Baathist forces taught us anything, it should have been that an unvanquished enemy can't become a reliable ally overnight, if ever.

Given our experiences at the end of WW II, one wonders how this theory of placing Baathist and Sunni dead—enders in charge of security units ever gained acceptance in the first place.  Even on the verge of completely annihilating German forces, the Nazi guerrillas, aka the Werewolves, had managed to establish a core of 6,000 irregulars by early winter of 1945.  They were well trained in conducting ambushes, assassinations, sabotage, and in employing the current favorite weapon of Iraqi terrorists: the roadside bomb.

Today, it would be hard to imagine that senior Allied commanders  would allow intact units composed of thousands of Waffen SS and Nazi intelligence operatives to roam the countryside, much less negotiate with them for a prominent role in post—war German security forces.  This was total war, and organized enemy units were to be destroyed or captured, not to be negotiated with. And let's not forget that General Patton was relieved as Military Governor of Bavaria for his lax implementation of Allied de—Nazification policies.

Some justify this approach of dealing with the Baathists by repeating the false notion that Coalition troop strength was insufficient, which forced US commanders into cutting deals with the Sunnis and Baathists to relieve pressure on an overworked military.  But the actual numbers show a very different reality.  By the end of June 2003, additional troop deployments to Iraq resulted in a Coalition total of over 103,000 troops in combat formations, excluding support units.  This is not an insignificant force, and one that, if employed in synchronized offensive operations, should have hastened the demise of Saddam's irregulars.  Why this was not done in the fall of 2003 remains murky.

On the plus—side, the Coalition command has successfully negotiated with Sunnis it thinks will eventually come in from the cold and take part in the political process.  But the reality on the ground shows mixed results at best.  In a Washington Times article, a US commander writes to a retired officer in the States from the Tarmiya suburb of Baghdad.  It is a 'hotbed' of Sunni Muslim insurgents, and is also home to Saddam loyalists and Baathist military leaders.  One gets the impression that in some cases, it is nearly impossible to distinguish so—called Sunni rejectionists and hard—core Baathists.  The US officer notes that the Sunnis are now more willing to participate politically in the future of Iraq.  Yet, he writes,

"We are making progress.  My 'Sunni friends' are running in this next election.  They frankly are also still trying to kill me and my soldiers [emphasis added] as they have not completely changed their entire culture nor those that would finance evil.  But we are making progress."

Some cease—fire.

In Iraq, the US has fielded the best fighting force the world has ever seen.  Yet, the US high command has not fully taken advantage of this force, and has from the beginning embarked on political overtures to the enemy, a move which appears to be at odds with established policy.  Thinking back to the critical battles in 2004, conventional wisdom has held that it was those "damn State Department types" that stopped Army and Marine units from achieving total victory in Fallujah and Najaf.  This notion needs to be reexamined in light of this latest round of deal—making with those who continue to kill Coalition and Iraqi troops.

The dirty business of war and its chaotic aftermath at times demand highly credentialed soldier—diplomats.  But timing is crucial.  We must be sure we are not leaving the seeds of a new insurgency in the wake of Iraq's stunning recovery as a full fledged democracy.  Next time — and there will be a next time — let's remember that real peace follows complete victory over the enemy.  Experiments in theoretical statecraft should wait until our adversaries are dead or captured; not before.

Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.