The Problems of Victory

We're closing in on victory in Iraq. (And, if Ray Robison is correct, perhaps at points east as well.) The Jihadis are nearing collapse across the country. With the exception of a few Ba'athist holdouts, the Sunni population is coming over in ever-greater numbers.

Scarcely a day goes by without another Al-Queda kingpin being bagged by the Coalition. (Last week it was a financier with no less than a hundred million to play with. That would pay for a lot of car bombs.)

The Jihadis have shown no ability to put together any kind of workable counterstrategy. According to Iraq the Model, the Jihadis have begun targeting remote villages (as predicted here last month), a practice that can only increase their isolation and accelerate their death spiral.

Even Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's version of the rebel without a cause, appears to have smelled the coffee. This past weekend he at last shook hands with his mortal enemy, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the largest Shi'ite political party. This ends both Moqtada's boycott of the government and the gunfights between the SIIC and Moqtada's Mahdi Army.

With the Shi'ites pacified and Al-Queda on the run, all that remains are the freelancers and bandits.

Victory holds its own set of challenges. We often think of military victory as something     that unfolds of itself, a series of events on the order of a natural phenomenon. But victory in war is as much a product of human reason and passion as it is of luck and circumstance. Victory requires management, the same as any other aspect of war.

Many a victorious battle has been thrown away because the left flank dawdled after the right had broken through. Or the reserves decided to loot the enemy's baggage train rather than remain where they'd been ordered. Or subordinates hesitated, or people got strange ideas and acted on them. There's a long record of such folly that deserves more study than it has gotten.

The Perils of Victory

Wars and campaigns don't fail in quite the same fashion as battles. By the time a war or campaign has progressed to its closing moments, matters have reached a point where a failure of any given magnitude is unlikely to completely reverse the tide. But when failures occur on that level,  the result is to make things harder and more costly than they strictly have to be.

One of the most common methods of fumbling a victory is to allow the enemy one last great blow before the end. This is what occurred in the Ardennes in the last months of WWII. The Allied advance slowed to a halt for the winter of 1944, the troops taking up bivouacs in central Belgium. The commanders, above all Omar Bradley, were not at all worried. The Germans were whipped. They had left their equipment and tens of thousands of their best troops behind in France. Besides, the Ardennes forest was far too dense to allow an army to maneuver through it.

Only George Patton, far to the south facing the Palatinate, recalled that the Ardennes was the exact route taken by Guderian's tanks during the 1940 conquest of France. Inspecting a map of the area, Patten mused, "Brad could get in trouble up there in short order."

Scarcely had the words left his lips than German armored forces, spearheaded by SS units, broke through Allied lines. The American units facing them had been at the front only a few days. They collapsed and ran for it. Many GIs froze in the woods. Large numbers were taken prisoner. Some were gunned down by the SS after being captured. Only ferocious resistance by a few veteran units - above all the 101st Airborne in the town of Bastogne - allowed the Allies to hold on long enough for Patton to dash north and cut off the advancing German columns. It required a month of fighting to restore the lines, at the cost of over 60,000 casualties.

Endgame in Iraq

Iraq, of course, is not that kind of war. And Petraeus and Odierno are certainly closer to Patton than Bradley. But the Long War being what it is, and the Jihadis being the kind of enemy they are, it would be worth our while to make a very close examination of the board before the endgame is played out.

Consider the Jihadis. They opened up this conflict through a surprise blow designed as much to make an impression as to cause damage. With two strikes at the very centers of American power, the Jihadis succeeded where the Soviets, Chinese, and North Koreans failed, despite all their bombers and ICBMs. The Jihadis have attempted to duplicate or even surpass these strikes since, with no real success, though they have struck serious blows in London, Madrid, and Bali.

Now consider the situation, from the viewpoint of an Islamist mujahaddin. Until even as late as six months ago, the Jihadis had Iraq in the bag. They had stymied all attempts to provide security to the Iraqi people. They killed where they wanted, when they wanted, and as many as they wanted, and as often as not, got clean away with it. Through a series of carefully measured atrocities, including the attack on the Golden Temple, they came very close to triggering an ethnic civil war in Iraq, a development which would have given them their victory by default.

Now all that is ended. They are being turned out of the same country where, only months ago, they proclaimed their new "caliphate". Their erstwhile Iraqi allies have turned on them. The infidels are about to hand them a humiliation even greater than that meted out to the Taliban in December 2001.


How likely are they to take that sitting down? And what would they do if they decided not to?

The next move on the Iraq chessboard may occur continents away. The Jihadis cannot take a public whipping in the Middle East without responding, and responding as ferociously and brutally as they know how.

The question of where they'll strike is one easily answered: wherever they find a soft target. One that in some way represents America and will cause the maximum amount of damage and uproar. It could be in Europe, in could be in Asia, it could be down the street from where you're reading this.

We don't know enough yet about the attempted operation in Germany, beyond the fact that the targets were to be American. Several of the bombers were converts, something that should have drawn  more comment than it has. Our enemies may be moving into a new tactical phase. Whether we will be prepared for it is by no means assured.

The same can be said about the two clowns in South Carolina. What was to be the target of their large fireworks collection is difficult to say. A naval station stands not far from where they were picked up, but that's merely a plausible target. There are potential targets all up and down the east coast within easy driving range of the point where they were arrested. 

So we don't know if either attempt was related to the situation in Iraq. All that we know is that the Jihadis are actively targeting the West, and doing it in a big way. And using their latest innovation: in-place, self-generating networks with little or no direct connection with Islamists outside the host country.

The Biggest, Softest Target

That is bad news for us. In many ways, the biggest, softest target remains the United  States, with our problems securing our borders, our large and in many ways uncooperative immigrant population, and our obsession with shooting ourselves in the foot where our defenses are concerned. The most recent attempted strikes have been broken up due to signals intercepts, sloppiness on the part of the Jihadis, and pure luck. At some point one or more of those factors will break down. (Or be broken down. According to congressional Democrats, one of the big items on their agenda this Fall is yet another assault on U.S. communications intelligence initiatives. Exactly what this is supposed to accomplish is anybody's guess.)

Eventually, we may well have tanker bombs going off, and suicide bombers on American streets. All that is required is that reason, opportunity and capability coincide. The unfolding victory in Iraq gives them their reason. They cannot be seen acquiescing, not if they are to maintain their standing in the Muslim world. They have to strike. Strike hard, and brutally, and in a fashion that cannot be ignored. We are not yet living in a 9/12 world, as a noted columnist the New York Times recently asserted. 9/12 has not yet dawned, and may well not dawn in our lifetimes. Our achievements in Iraq will not go unmarked by blood.

The Jihadis have their reason. Do they have the opportunity and capability? One way or another, we are going to find out.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.