Monday, April 07, 2008


Prelude to Testimony

On the eve of General Petraeus’s next scheduled testimony to Congress, National Review hosts or links to three strong arguments in favor of continued support for our efforts in Iraq.

In the first, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute takes on antiwar (and thus Antiwar Party) talking points. They make easy work for Kagan, whose very lengthy takedown can be summarized thus: however else they can be characterized, the arguments against Iraq by anti-war Democrats are deeply dishonest, and not in accord with reality – current or past.

What is Victory?

Kagan demolishes what equates to Democratic sophistry, the pretense that a withdrawal from Iraq would not really be defeat, nor can staying achieve “victory”:

Yes, in the world as it is, whatever line we sell ourselves, there really is victory and there really is defeat, the two are different, and their effects on the future diverge profoundly. And yes, the reason we must continue to spend money and the lives of the very best Americans in that far-off land is that the interests of every American are actually at stake. [snip] Unless the advocates of defeat can show, as they have not yet done, that the consequences of losing are very likely to be small not simply the day after the last American leaves Iraq, but over the next five, ten, and 50 years, then what they are really selling is short-term relief in exchange for long-term pain.

Other highlights from Kagan:

The War Costs Too Much
Military spending has traditionally been a form of economic stimulus, and wars more commonly end recessions or depressions than start them. That’s not a good reason to start a war, but neither is it a good reason to lose one. The impact of the current war on the U.S. economy, finally, is far smaller than the impact of previous major conflicts.

The War Is Inevitably Lost, Recent Progress Notwithstanding
The credibility of many making this argument suffers from the conviction with which they declared early (and, in some cases, even late) in 2007 that no progress of any kind was possible.

Iraq is a made-up state: Iraqis hate each other, and only armed might can keep the peace.

The high degree of Sunni-Shi’a intermarriage in the mixed areas of Iraq, the large numbers of such mixed areas, and the increasing anger with which many Iraqis in those areas now denounce the idea of sectarian conflict all run against this argument.

Iraqis are not ready for democracy
As for the notion that democracy is incompatible with Islam, tell it to the hundreds of millions of Muslims in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Europe who have embraced it. As for the notion that democracy is inappropriate for Arabs, the enthusiasm with which the liberal elite that insists on the universality of its own moral relativism engages in such overtly racist argumentation is astounding.

The Anbar Awakening had nothing to do with the surge
This argument is a bit like saying that the French people, finally tiring of the Nazis’ occupation, rose up of their own accord in 1944, engaging in increasing partisan and insurgent activities culminating with the re-appearance of the Free French military units that liberated Paris — and that none of this had anything to do with the Normandy invasion, since the Free French movement and partisan activity within France predated that invasion.

Violence fell only because Moqtada al Sadr ordered a unilateral cease-fire
In addition to having to abandon any pretext of participating in Iraqi politics if he ended the ceasefire, therefore, Sadr also had to face the likelihood that well-informed U.S. and ISF troops would take out his key leadership cadres the moment he ordered them to fight. And that is what happened when Maliki launched his offensive in Basra and JAM and Special Groups began to fight in Baghdad — which is one of the main reasons Sadr ordered his people again to stand down.  The degree of Sadr’s influence and power — even of his control over his own movement — is increasingly open to question, but his ability to make Shi’a Iraq explode at will appears to be substantially diminished.

Now that the Surge Is Ending, We’ll Be Right Back Where We Started
The worst flaw in this argument, however, is that it naively assumes that the situation in Iraq today is the same as it was in January 2007 apart from the temporary increase in U.S. forces and the (supposedly) temporary drop in violence. In fact, the situation has changed profoundly both in the provinces and in Baghdad itself, where the central government has made remarkable progress even on the “benchmarks” that Congress set for it last year.

We Should Never Have Fought this War in the First Place
There are no do-overs in the real world. Deciding that we made a mistake in 2003 or that we don’t like what has happened in the intervening five years does not make it possible to hit some global rewind button and start again from scratch.

Iraq Is a Distraction from the Real War on Terror
Is there really any question about whether or not al-Qaeda in Iraq is part of the global al-Qaeda movement? Considering, then, that there are very few and very small al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, that al-Qaeda in South Asia is mostly in Pakistan, and that none of those insisting that the U.S. abandon Iraq to fight the “real” enemy in Afghanistan have proposed any meaningful plans for dealing with Chitral and Waziristan where that “real” enemy actually is — considering, finally, that the one place American soldiers are actually fighting al-Qaeda every day and decisively winning is Iraq, how, exactly, is Iraq a distraction from the war on terror? This is the war, and we’re winning it. Let’s not decide that we’d rather lose.

In the second piece noted above, Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham set the stage for Generalm Petraeus’s testimony by also highlighting the hypocrisy and error of many antiwar critics:

When Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress tomorrow, he will step into an American political landscape dramatically different from the one he faced when he last spoke on Capitol Hill seven months ago. This time Gen. Petraeus returns to Washington having led one of the most remarkably successful military operations in American history. His antiwar critics, meanwhile, face a crisis of credibility – having confidently predicted the failure of the surge, and been proven decidedly wrong.

Senators Lieberman and Graham acknowledge the tragic and significant costs of our efforts in Iraq, but they remain adamant about the value or our continuing successes, in contrast to the fear mongering of antiwar opponents:

The success we are now achieving also has consequences far beyond Iraq's borders in the larger, global struggle against Islamist extremism. Thanks to the surge, Iraq today is looking increasingly like Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare: an Arab country, in the heart of the Middle East, in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims – both Sunni and Shiite – are rising up and fighting, shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers, against al Qaeda and its hateful ideology.

It is unfortunate that so many opponents of the surge still refuse to acknowledge the gains we have achieved in Iraq. When Gen. Petraeus testifies this week, however, the American people will have a clear choice as we weigh the future of our fight there: between the general who is leading us to victory, and the critics who spent the past year predicting defeat.

Lastly, Ralph Peters at the NY Post checked in with a military colleague in Baghdad for what he believes will be a close resemblance to what General Petraeus will report to Congress this week.

Peters explains why Iraq and the Iraqi Government is faring much better than mainstream media and Congressional detractors try to depict:

My source acknowledged that "the planning for Basra was incomplete and some of the local forces were incapable of standing up to the Iranian-supported rogue-militia elements." The quality of Iraq's security forces remains uneven - but he sees them as remarkably improved, in general. Their performance in Basra was more impressive than feature-the-bad-news reporting implied.

This officer doesn't paint over the cracks in the Iraqi house, but he's convinced that the Basra operation did "reflect a determination of a Shia-led government to deal with Shia extremist challenges."

For myself, I watched the Basra dust-up from Panama, amazed at the willful obtuseness of "war correspondents" who still refuse to acknowledge basic military realities. They demanded a level of effectiveness from Iraqi troops that the British had been unable (and unwilling) to deliver over the last five years.

Unlike the Brits, who faked it, the Iraqis went into the city and fought. Was their performance perfect? Of course not. But this is where the punditry got really interesting.

Many of the critics had previously lavished praise on the counterinsurgency manual that Petraeus midwifed. One of the most-quoted maxims from that document was T.E. Lawrence's admonition that it's better for our local allies to do something imperfectly themselves than for us to do it perfectly for them.

Well, the Iraqis stepped up to the plate. A few units folded. Others fought ferociously. They did what we said we wanted - and the critics raised the bar again. (Unfair criteria for success now may pose a greater obstacle in Iraq and Afghanistan than do al Qaeda or the Taliban.)

And, by the way, it was Moqtada al Sadr, not the Iraqi government, who requested a cease-fire - after being urged by the Iranians to opt to let those militias live to fight another day.

This stage is set. Let’s see what happens in Washington this week.

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