Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ripple Effects

The "Iraq War As Failure" meme has been around for some time now, since the beginning in fact. The latest installment comes to us from BBC world affairs editor John Simpson.

Regime change brings the unexpected

Before the war in Iraq, Mr. Simpson interviewed one of the chief architects of the regime change strategy, who had very high hopes regarding the outcome.
The ripple effects would affect the entire region, he said. Authoritarian governments would crumble and be replaced by democracies.

"It happened in Eastern Europe," said my interviewee - "why not in the Mid-East?"
Apparently, the results have been disappointing.
Nowadays, those in Washington who urged President Bush to invade Iraq are heavily on the defensive.

This particular man won't speak publicly about the subject any more, even to defend it.
Mr. Simpson then recalls how it seemed to him at one time that this "ripple effect" might actually be occurring.
Earlier this year I remembered him when it seemed as though there might, after all, be a ripple effect from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Big demonstrations in Lebanon demanded the withdrawal of Syria's occupation forces, and they duly left.

Now Syria's own government looks insecure, as the accusations of its involvement in the murder campaign in Lebanon grow stronger.

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are at least going through the motions of having freer elections.
However, this sequence of events does not measure up to the expected "ripple effect".
But none of this is anything remotely like the Middle Eastern equivalent of Eastern Europe's 1989.
It is at this point that Mr. Simpson begins a litany of things gone wrong in Iraq. But first, several objections must be raised to his line of argument thus far.

Objection #1: Of what importance is the unfulfilled expection of an unnamed member of the Bush Administration? Are we to conclude that failure to fulfill such high expections invalidates the merit of the undertaking? If so, then the spirit of Abraham Lincoln must answer for failing to win the US Civil War in an afternoon. There should have never been a second Bull Run.

Objection #2: What is wrong with that which has been accomplished thus far? Doesn't this represent significant progress in the last several years? And what about other accomplishments such as Libya giving up a previously unknown WMD program, Saudi success in dismantling Al Qaeda, or the declining popularity of the jihadists? Or does Mr. Simpson suggest the Middle East would be further along the road to democracy had the US not removed Saddam?

Object #3: How do we know such a "ripple effect" won't eventually occur? Mr. Simpson seems to suggest that the fall of Eastern European Communism just came out of the blue. True, it did take the West by surprise, but it was not an event without a cause. The fall of Communism was the culmination of a decades-long struggle between the East and the West during the Cold War. By the standard that Mr. Simspon sets, the "ripple effect" of collapsing Communism should have occurred right after breaking the Berlin Blockade and repelling North Korean aggression, instead of decades later.

Mr. Simpson then goes on to remind us how the US invasion of Iraq has inflammed Muslim opinion against the US, leading to greater violence.
Opinion throughout the Muslim world is still deeply offended by the way the Americans and British marched into Iraq without serious international support.
As if there were no Muslims with ill feelings toward the US prior to the Iraqi invasion.
What has rippled out instead has been radical Islamic violence.
As if there was no radical Islamic violence prior to the Iraqi invasion.
Jordan has suffered from it and so, to a lesser extent, has Syria.
What suffering has Syria endured, other than what it has received at the hands of the US for collaborating with the jihadists?
At some stage the battle-hardened veterans of Ramadi and Falluja will move elsewhere, just as they did from Afghanistan and Chechnya.
At what stage exactly do these "veterans" move on? Will they leave when their jihad has been won, or when they realize the futility of their fight and seek easier targets? Those who left Afghanistan did so, not as victors seeking ever greater victories, but as vanquished seeking to escape utter destruction. And I don't think the jihad is going too well in Chechnya, either. Such will be the fate of the "veterans" of Ramadi and Falluja. Those still alive, that is.

And by the way, this whole argument about Iraq being a terrorist training ground is a red herring anyways. No matter where we fight the terrorists, the survivors will gain operational experience that they will attempt to pass on to other jihadists.
Now there are many more of them, and they have greater popular support.
How exactly does he know that there are more of them? Also, has he not read the recent polls that show support for terrorism in the Middle East is declining? Is Mr. Simpson not aware of the large demonstrations against the terrorists in Jordan, the same terrorists that perpetrated the violence he mentions above?

Next we read how Iran has benefited from the US invasion.
Iran, increasingly radical, now knows that the United States lacks both the military strength and the political will to attack it.
So how does he know this, and how does he know that Iran knows this?
And the new, democratic, predominantly Shia Iraq has become its closest ally.
This is merely a presumption at this point. After all, wasn't the "ripple effect" merely a presumption, too? And how can so much of the discourse about Iran revolve around the assumption that Iran will influence Iraq, giving little thought to the possibility of Iraq influencing Iran?

Fortunately, it's not all bad in Iraq, as an Iraqi Shia relates.
The best moment of his life, he says, was when he saw Saddam walking into court to stand trial for the crimes of his regime.
But like so many other media reports on Iraq, no tidbit of good news goes unrebutted.
Yet he is certainly not pro-American. "Their soldiers treat us like inferior beings, they shoot at our cars, they scream at us, and then they kill us because we don't understand what they say."
I don't suppose Mr. Simpson has ever seen an act of kindness by a US soldier. And I would imagine that he's never met an Iraqi that looked favorably upon the US. But in the end, it all doesn't really matter anymore.
Already, Iraqi politicians seem to feel that the US is increasingly irrelevant.
Assuming that this correctly characterizes the attitude of Iraqi politicians, is this such a bad thing? Aren't we there to help them get back on their feet, to make their own destiny? Isn't that what freedom is all about?

Update
I wonder what Mr. Simpson's reaction will be to this?
(hat tip: Mudville Gazette)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Is It Worth It?

Aaron m. segal asks the following:
The real question: is forcing stability on Iraq worth the lives of thousands of US soldiers and even more Iraqis and millions of tax dollars? Is it really victory of it costs this much?
Stability is not something that can be forced upon Iraq. It is a goal of the US to bring about stability in Iraq through democratic self-government, but ultimately Iraqis must be the ones to stabilize their own country. As long as a US presence is required to prevent Iraq from disintegrating into chaos and civil war, there is no stability.

Is in the war in Iraq worth it? From an Iraqi perspective, the answer I believe is "yes". The majority of Iraqis -- particularly the Kurds and Shi'ites -- are glad Saddam is gone and the Ba'athists out of power. They see the fight against the jihadists and insurgents as their fight for freedom. Under Saddam, the Iraqi people were brutally subjugated by a ruthless tyrant. Now, they have a chance for freedom, and they're willing to fight for it.

Is it worth it from an American perspective? Are the lives lost and treasure spent worth the gain? Here's what has been accomplished so far:
  • Removed a tyrant who started two wars, developed and used WMDs, and killed over a million people
  • Saudi Arabia is taking more forceful action against Al Qaeda, capturing or killing many of its leaders
  • Libya gave up a previously unknown WMD program as a result of Saddam's downfall
  • The Syrian military left Lebanon under US pressure
  • Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries are making moves, however small, towards democratic government
  • The jihadists are losing popularity among the very Muslims whose support they need to survive
Given what has been accomplished so far, I think the war is worth it, especially if it sparks the spread of democracy across the Middle East. If you ask the troops fighting in Iraq, many of them believe in their mission. I know personally men and women who have served in Iraq. Though none wanted to be away from their families, they believe they were fighting for a just and noble cause.

To those who have lost loved ones in this war, the question "Is it worth it?" has a bitter edge to it. And for some, such as Cindy Sheehan, the answer is a definite and grief-stricken "no". But not all see it that way.

I don't think our generation will come ever come to a consensus answer, as I am sure we will be debating this very question for many years to come. Even if after Iraq proves to be an overwhelming success, some will still say that we should not have invaded, that success was not worth the price we paid. In the end, the definitive answer to the question "Is it worth it?" will come, not from us, but from historians not yet born. And I suspect their answer will be "yes".

Friday, December 09, 2005

Center of Gravity

In my lifetime, the US has fought 4 major conflicts (Vietnam, The Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq) and engaged in various other major military operations (Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo). In each case, the US possessed overwhelming military superiority over its enemies. And yet, despite the military power of the US, three of these are seen -- rightly or wrongly -- as defeats for the US: Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia.
"The aftermath of the collapse of American power in Vietnam—and how they ran and left their agents—is noteworthy."

Ayman al-Zawahiri

"Our people realise more than before that the American soldier is a paper tiger, they're claiming defeat after a few blows."

Osama bin Laden
Opotho's comment from my previous post makes the point:
I only realized late in the game what some of you may have been hip to in the 90's - that our enemy had long ago grasped the reality that "only by way of a major blunder by the US -- withdrawing before final victory has been secured" could they hope to defeat the US in any theatre. I credit them for that degree of astuteness, though they be wrong in the end.
What our enemy has grasped is the US center of gravity. They realize that they cannot defeat the US by force of arms, but by force of will. If they can hold on long enough and keep inflicting casualties on the US military -- so the reasoning goes -- the American public will eventually turn against the war and demand a withdrawal. The US will lose its stomach for the fight.

Al Qaeda and the Ba'athist insurgents in Iraq certainly aren't the first enemies we have faced to reach this kind of conclusion about our will to fight. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in the belief that the US would eventually tire of war with Japan and sue for peace, thus leaving the Japanese in possession of their vast Asian-Pacific empire. They failed to heed the counsel of men like Admiral Yamamoto, who knew of America's industrial might and its resolve to win.

Was Al Qaeda wrong? Have the Ba'athist insurgents miscalculated? From the standpoint of identifying the US center of gravity, the answer is no. They correctly perceive our will to fight as the point against which they must make their maximum effort. From the standpoint of having correctly gauged our will to see this war through to final victory, we shall see. But the lessons of Vietnam cut both ways, and I for one am optimistic that we shall persevere.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Winning A Won War

In chess, the term "won game" refers to a position where one player has a decided advantage over the other such that -- barring any mistakes on his part -- he can force checkmate on his opponent. In other words, it's his game to lose. Of course, players do make mistakes and won games are often lost, at least at the amateur level. At the level of play of international grandmasters, however, won games are a foregone conclusion, and such games usually end with the resignation of the other player. But not always. One of the worst blunders that can be committed in chess is to resign a won game.

In Iraq, the military position of the US is that of a won war. While the insurgency may continue for many more years to come, the insurgents cannot drive the US out of Iraq through force of arms. Only by way of a major blunder by the US -- withdrawing before final victory has been secured -- can the insurgents hope to defeat the US.

Politically, the situation is somewhat murkier. Perhaps in retrospect history will judge that victory in Iraq was assured with the January 2005 elections. More likely, I think, the upcoming election next week -- if successful -- will prove to be the political watershed in Iraq. With heavy participation from all major ethnic and religious groups, the election of the first democratic government in the Arab world will deliver a blow to the insurgents from which they will likely not recover. With the increasing size and capabilities of the Iraqi security forces, along with continued support from the US and its allies, the insurgency will in time be crushed by an ancient and proud people yearning to breathe free.

Victory in Iraq has not yet been fully secured. Many difficulties remain, and there will be more of the loss and suffering that comes with war. But withdrawing today, or in six months, or on any kind of schedule driven by political expediency, will spell almost certain defeat. And the US won't be the only one to lose.

Update
A view from the ground in Iraq: Failed War?
(hat tip: Mudville Gazette)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Getting It Right

We need more media coverage like this:

Phillips Highlights Heroic Fliers

I had not heard of CNN's Kyra Phillips before today, but my first impression of her is positive. From watching the video, she seems to have some idea of what she's talking about. That is, it seems, a rare quality among journalists today who cover the military.

You can read more about the rescue mission here:

Air Force Crews Lauded for Combat Rescue Mission

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Forgotten Heroes

These men were once household names across America:

Alvin York
John Basilone
Audie Murphy

How many Americans today would recognize these names? Some would undoubtedly recognize SGT Alvin York and 1LT Audie Murphy, remembering their exploits from Hollywood movies. But few Americans today -- outside of the USMC -- would know anything of the deeds of Manila John Basilone.

Many such heroes have served our nation in time of war. Honored by the generations they served, only a precious few are remembered beyond the lifetimes of those for whom they fought, bled, and died. Like the soldier of that old army ballad, their memories just...fade...away.

Do any Americans today remember the name of Paul Smith? Make that SFC Paul R. Smith of Task Force 2-7, who fought with the Third Infantry Division "Rock of the Marne" on its way to victory in Baghdad. This is a man well worth knowing, and remembering:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers. As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded. His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.

SFC Paul Smith gave his life for his fellow soldiers, and his nation, and in so doing won the first Medal of Honor awarded since the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Paul Smith is a hero, but he's not a forgotten hero, as are the likes of York, Murphy, and Basilone. You see, a nation cannot forget what a nation has never known.

Why are heroes like Paul Smith so little known to Americans today? Why do our leaders say things about today's heroes such as this, this, and this? And why, oh why, would someone do something like this to a wounded hero? Our soldiers are being attacked from the home front, their mission undermined, their heroics belittled or ignored. That's why this blog was born, to defend the soldiers who are defending our freedom.

FPCON DELTA has been declared...