Iraq War Reaches Three Years
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tries to explain, “What We’ve Gained In 3 Years in Iraq” in an op-ed in today’s WaPo. He informs us that,
The terrorists seem to recognize that they are losing in Iraq. I believe that history will show that to be the case.
Fortunately, history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on Web sites or the latest sensational attack. History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately.
Aside from the fact that “blog” is a sort of contraction for “Web log” and that all of them are therefore on Web sites (it’s amazing that his staffers allowed him to make such a ridiculous gaffe) that’s certainly true. Of course, we don’t yet have the advantage of hindsight. The future is what one might term a “known unknown.” So, what are the known knowns?
Consider that in three years Iraq has gone from enduring a brutal dictatorship to electing a provisional government to ratifying a new constitution written by Iraqis to electing a permanent government last December. In each of these elections, the number of voters participating has increased significantly — from 8.5 million in the January 2005 election to nearly 12 million in the December election — in defiance of terrorists’ threats and attacks.
This is undeniable and objectively a good thing. Of course, it has come at a steep price: the (hopefully short term) transformation of Iraq into a killing zone with tens of thousands of dead, mostly innocents caught in the crossfire.
One of the most important developments over the past year has been the increasing participation of Iraq’s Sunni community in the political process. In the volatile Anbar province, where Sunnis are an overwhelming majority, voter turnout grew from 2 percent in January to 86 percent in December. Sunni sheiks and religious leaders who previously had been sympathetic to the insurgency are today meeting with coalition representatives, encouraging Iraqis to join the security forces and waging what violent extremists such as Abu al-Zarqawi and his al-Qaeda followers recognize as a “large-scale war” against them.
The terrorists are determined to stoke sectarian tension and are attempting to spark a civil war. But despite the many acts of violence and provocation, the vast majority of Iraqis have shown that they want their country to remain whole and free of ethnic conflict. We saw this last month after the attack on the Shiite shrine in Samarra, when leaders of Iraq’s various political parties and religious groups condemned the violence and called for calm.
Another significant transformation has been in the size, capability and responsibility of Iraqi security forces. And this is vitally important, because it is Iraqis, after all, who must build and secure their own nation. Today, some 100 Iraqi army battalions of several hundred troops each are in the fight, and 49 control their own battle space. About 75 percent of all military operations in the country include Iraqi security forces, and nearly half of those are independently Iraqi-planned, Iraqi-conducted and Iraqi-led. Iraqi security forces have a greater ability than coalition troops to detect a foreign terrorist’s accent, identify local suspects and use force without increasing a feeling of occupation. It was these Iraqi forces — not U.S. or coalition troops — that enforced curfews and contained the violence after the attack on the Golden Dome Shrine in Samarra. To be sure, violence of various stripes continues to slow Iraq’s progress. But the coalition is doing everything possible to see this effort succeed and is making adjustments as appropriate.
Again, true as far as it goes. One could argue, though, that this does not represent a “gain” if the baseline is the status quo ante bellum. Saddam’s security forces were doing a remarkable job of enforcing law and order. Of course, they were doing so in addition to regular massacres of the dictator’s political opponents real and perceived.
The rationale for a free and democratic Iraq is as compelling today as it was three years ago. A free and stable Iraq will not attack its neighbors, will not conspire with terrorists, will not pay rewards to the families of suicide bombers and will not seek to kill Americans.
True enough. But the current Iraq is much more of a hotbed of suicide bombers and other terrorists than it was three years ago.
Though there are those who will never be convinced that the cause in Iraq is worth the costs, anyone looking realistically at the world today — at the terrorist threat we face — can come to only one conclusion: Now is the time for resolve, not retreat.
While I agree with the conclusion, that’s not exactly an argument.
Consider that if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum — and the free world might not have the will to face them again. Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis. It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet domination because it was too hard or too tough or we didn’t have the patience to work with them as they built free countries.
Well, no. Indeed, there is virtually no chances of Saddamists “filling the vacuum.” The end result of our departure would almost surely be either a Shiite dominated state or the splitting of Iraq into multiple states along tribal lines. Both outcomes would, of course, be much worse from our perspective than a stable democracy. Further, even Saddam lacked the power to be a Hitler or Stalin. It is highly unlikely that any follow-on society would have the ability to conquer its neighbors.
The post-Communist Eastern Europe analogy is more interesting, although beyond my historical insight to analyze fully. Certainly, the transition in many states was quite bloody, perhaps on a scale comparable to what we’re seeing in Iraq today. There were–and doubtless still are–those who would prefer the return of the USSR to the status quo. In some cases, too, the outcome in those states are still in doubt.
Ironically, however, the United States did virtually nothing in any of those cases. We intervened very late in the game in Bosnia and Kosovo and remained totally out of the struggles in the non-European former Soviet Republics.
What we need to understand is that the vast majority of the Iraqi people want the coalition to succeed. They want better futures for themselves and their families. They do not want the extremists to win. And they are risking their lives every day to secure their country.
Quite true. It doesn’t necessarily follow that we must do anything about that.
George Will argues that it’s time for the administration to change its rhetoric on Iraq. He advises them to “accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive — that is, emphasize the dangers of failure and de-emphasize talk about Iraq’s becoming a democracy that ignites emulative transformation in the Middle East.”
WaPo also publishes a one week diary by Iraqi dentist-blogger Zeyad, which he concludes, “A quiet day, which left me to ponder a question that haunts me: We Iraqis continue to live between the hammer of terrorists and the anvil of American, British and Iraqi security forces. But what kind of a people are we to respond by killing our own?”