ONE OF MY QUESTIONS about the war effort in Iraq is why we lost momentum -- as I noted before, the old saying is that you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them, and we've been sitting on them in Iraq instead of taking the war effort to our enemies, many of whom are outside of Iraq. Mohammed of Iraq the Model has a lengthy discussion of that very topic. Excerpt: "The insurgents, terrorists and militias operating in Iraq depend on foreign support for money, training, technology and in some cases men. Moreover the influence of foreign interference is clear even in the political arena in Iraq through the numerous political crises the country had faced. Thus, this war will not see an end unless America revives the preemptive war strategy and start chasing the enemies and striking their bases in the region, especially in Syria and Iran."
That seems right to me, and I don't understand why the Bush Administration has let the momentum grind to a halt. (Does Iran already have nukes, and has it successfully threatened us with them? Possible, I suppose, but how likely?)
UPDATE: TM Lutas says that Mohammed and I are wrong, and misunderstand the U.S. strategy. "I've been writing about how the US and Al Queda are fighting on a meta-battlefield of serialization and parallelization since at least 2003. The US is fundamentally trying to slow things down, occasionally biting where it chooses, chewing, and swallowing chunks of Al Queda and company at its convenience. Al Queda tries to make it politically impossible to maintain a sustainable pace so that the US is forced by political realities into burnout, leading to an opportunity where Al Queda can actually claim a durable military victory."
Read the whole thing. I hope he's right.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Ed Driscoll emails:
For what it's worth, when I interviewed Mark Steyn last week for an upcoming TCS podcast to discuss "America Alone", he suggested the same thing that Mohammed of Iraq the Model and you did: take the fight into countries like Syria. I replied that you'd immediately hear folks like Sen. Kerry saying, "It's Cambodia, all over again!"
Steyn replied that Kerry would, of course, say that no matter what we did, but it dovetails into one of the central points of his book: think of how badly we'll look on the world stage--and especially, in the Middle East--if we lose another long drawn out conflict: "America will look not like a super power, but a super pussy". (And yes, that was the phrase Steyn used.)
I can understand your desire for the pace with respect to Syria and Iran to pick up. But to paraphrase someone else, you go to war with the democracy that you have. Democracies have to fight wars with a certain level of popular support or they can't genuinely fight. Bush's approval ratings aren't low because we haven't invaded Syria, but because Iraq is so very difficult. Furthermore the opposition party has to support the kind of effort you are talking about or there simply can't be that kind of effort. It will be a long, hard slog. I think Administration strategy is always tempered by domestic political concerns. How could it be otherwise. Should the House & Senate fall to democrats, is there any chance in heck that the Administration could move in any way close to what you are suggesting?
Yes, it's hard to do with our current political situation. And M. Simon has further thoughts.
MORE: A reader who prefers anonymity emails:
We're not losing momentum in Iraq. The Pentagon strategy is a very deliberate form of tough love that is forcing the Iraqis to defend their own country.
Arabs are culturally the most passive, fence-sitting people on the planet. By their own admission they follow the strongest leader out there. If we had sent 500,000 troops to Iraq and fought a Soviet-style counterinsurgency, the end result would have been an Iraq with no incentive to do the very hard work of creating viable fighting forces from scratch. We would've been their new masters in perpetuity.
We also can't attack Iran and Syria right now because the Iranians would then activate their Iraqi militias and send a million Basij into Iraq. Syria would do a Saddam and start firing WMD-tipped missiles at Israel. The entire region could go up in flames.
Don't let the media convince you that things are going badly in Iraq. The Anbar tribes are now fighting al Qaeda on their own initiative, and the Shi'ite-dominated government is slowly dismantling al Sadr's Mahdi Army. "Experts" predicted that neither of these things would ever happen because of secular loyalties, but they are happening, and only because we're forcing the Iraqis to stand up and fight for their country.
Finally, take a look at what happened when the French, Soviets, and Russians fought Muslim insurgencies with the kind of aggressive, "proactive" approach so many Americans claim to want.
The French lost 18,000 in Algeria, a KIA rate three and a half times ours. The Soviets lost 14,000 in Afghanistan, a KIA rate twice ours. The Russians officially lost 5500 in the First Chechen War of 1994-96, but Soldiers' Mothers of Russia puts the actual number at 14,000, a KIA rate ten times ours. Nobody knows how many Russian troops have died in the Second Chechen War, but Soldiers' Mothers of Russia had the number at 11,000 by 2003.
Our strategy in Iraq is sound. It's keeping our own casualties down, and it's forcing the Iraqis to defend themselves.