Friday, February 24, 2006


Hanson on Iraq

Victor Davis Hanson recently visited Iraq and posted his impressions in Standoff in Iraq: The IED vs. Democracy, at National Review Online. In addition to assessing US Military personnel as highly motivated and of superior ability, Hanson provides an excellent primer on Al Qaeda strategic planning. This should be required reading for the bloviators both in government, and out.

Hanson identifies three basic strategies motivating current Al Qaeda operations: use of  improvised explosive devices (IED), assassinations, and suicide bombings; attack Shiites and Iraqi forces to create civil war; and to pay criminals to create murder and other mayhem and thereby delay infrastructure repairs.

According to Hanson, the use of IED are used to make Iraqi seem so unstable and violent to cause the American public to decide that Iraq isn’t worth “one more American life.” This is why the media campaign Al Qaeda wages in Western media is so valuable, as media outlets greatly prefer the bloody and violent and counts of bodies over reports of school openings.

Creating civil war and the societal upheavals that will create needs little explanation. What is important to note, however, is how crucially more important societal perceptions are to such a strategy than societal facts. Much like the polling that finds 75% of a population thinks a country is heading to disaster, but the same 75% thinks that things are going good for themselves. It’s always worse for others, because each individual’s experience is so necessarily narrow and isolated from the whole, and they get their information for others from what they hear or read in the media. This is no less true for Iraqis as for Americans. Here too, media is an important and very helpful tool for Al Qaeda’s desire to foment civil strife.

The third strategy Hanson mentions, that of Al Qaeda exploiting a criminal Iraqi underclass, Hanson describes as “one of the great lapses in world journalism.” His point is that Saddam Hussein released some 100,000 criminals (not of the political kind), and Al Qaeda and their hirelings have quite successfully portrayed “all the daily mayhem of a major city appear to be political violence.”

Hanson notes the standoff we are in at the moment: “we cannot yet stop the fear of the IED, and they cannot halt the progress of democracy.”

This is where Hanson’s upbeat impressions of both Iraqi Security forces and the American Military in Iraq bears on his assessment:

It is an odd war, because the side that I think is losing garners all the press, whether by blowing up the great golden dome of the Askariya shrine in Samarra, or blowing up an American each day. Yet we hear nothing of the other side that is ever so slowly, shrewdly undermining the enemy.

Hanson also notes a change in the argument at home, less about the mistakes that got us here, but a decision on the yes or no proposition of whether we stay and finish the job, or accept defeat and pull out now (or soon). And this argument is playing out differently than the war’s detractors might have hoped:

Most would agree that the Americans now know exactly what they are doing. They have a brilliant and savvy ambassador and a top diplomatic team. Their bases are expertly run and secured, where food, accommodations, and troop morale are excellent. Insufficient body armor and unarmored humvees are yesterday’s hysteria. Our generals — Casey, Chiarelli, Dempsey — are astute and understand the fine line between using too much force and not employing enough, and that the war cannot be won by force alone. American colonels are the best this county has produced, and they are proving it in Iraq under the most trying of conditions. Iraqi soldiers are treated with respect and given as much autonomy as their training allows.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Instapundit)

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