Muddle in Iraq

Ralph Peters has a sober assessment of the situation in Iraq.

Despite the impression created by intermittent attacks, the terrorists have shifted their priority away from attacking our troops. Every time they go after our soldiers or Marines, our enemies suffer disproportionate casualties. So they’re concentrating on killing Iraqis — government officials, the police, educators, doctors and businessmen. This gains them short-term headlines and creates local chaos, but it’s alienating the population. Bombing crowds of young men applying for jobs is not an effective way to win hearts and minds. The Iraqis may not want us to stay forever, but they do not want the terrorists in power. And there’s another, more significant reason why the violence has increased: Our troops are on the offensive again, reclaiming towns and cities where terrorists grabbed power after the Bush administration faltered in Fallujah this past spring.

Despite the frantic efforts of the Arab media to stop our destruction of the terrorists and insurgents, Prime Minister Allawi and the key members of his government are hanging tough. They know that Iraq doesn’t have a chance unless terror is uprooted. They support our troops. In response, the Bush administration has been willing to apply military power again, as long as it doesn’t create embarrassing headlines before November. We’re retaking one city after another. But the core problem remains Fallujah, where the administration’s surrender — despite the tactical success of our Marines — allowed our enemies to create a terrorist city-state. The violence that seeped across central Iraq over the summer came from terror’s safe haven in Fallujah. Allawi wants Fallujah brought into line. Our military has the muscle. Operations will be harder now than they would have been four months ago, since our enemies have had time to prepare for a siege. But we can do it.

The delay is because the Bush administration wants to avoid serious combat until after our elections. The Bushies are using airstrikes against terrorist safe houses, but that won’t retake the city. The truth is that the terrorists are the lesser problem. The greater impediment to progress has been our presidential elections and the policy distortions they create. The polarization, dishonesty and manipulation on both sides aids the terrorists. When John Kerry states categorically that he’ll bring our troops home within four years, it promises the terrorists that they only have to hang on. When he declares our efforts a disaster, he encourages our enemies to believe they’re winning. And when he promises a “more sensitive” war on terror, it’s read as a pending declaration of surrender. Kerry blathers. Bush delays. Iraq burns.

Meanwhile, our intelligence community has once again shown its weakness by covering its backside, instead of finding terrorists. A National Intelligence Council report revealed this week paints a bleak picture of the future of Iraq. Why? Because the intel bureaucrats don’t want to be blamed if things go wrong. There’s nothing safer than assuming failure.

This sounds about right. It’s unfortunate that electoral politics influences the conduct of a war but it’s inevitable given the incredibly charged atmosphere.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    What does Ralph want the IC to do? Sugarcoat the situation, to “spin” it in a positive manner? The IC has learned that it doesn’t pay to tell policymakers what they would like to hear. In the end, it’s intel that’s always blamed for failures. All the NIE was state the obvious – Iraq isn’t going as well as we thought or as Bush wants to let us think it is. The IC doesn’t make policy recommendations, it only tells you what is happening and what is likely to happen if things don’t change. In the absence of concrete plans to deal with the problems, then it has no way to assess what could happen other than to assume the worst case.