Another Perspective

Power Pointing to Victory

Gimmicky constructs won't win the day in Iraq, not by a longshot.

By 2.5.07

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If you want to see the document that may determine history for the next two years -- and probably elect a Democratic President in 2008 -- take a look at "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," by Frederick Kagan, resident military historian at the American Enterprise Institute. Like everything else these days, it's in plain view on the web at www.aei.org.

"Choosing Victory" supposedly turned the tide for the Bush administration, stiffening the backbone of its inner circle against accepting the advice of the Baker-Hamilton Commission and pushing ahead instead with the "surge" of troops that's supposedly going to turn the tide.

What's disconcerting is that, instead of being a scholarly paper, "Choosing Victory" in the form of Power Point slides with clear, ringing title pages -- "Victory is Vital," "Success is Possible" -- followed by bullet points for easy digestions. Somehow it ends up sounding like a pitch for a software product at a computer convention -- "This is a $3 billion market! If we get only 1 percent of it..." -- all that stuff.

Here's how it goes.

Slide One:

Victory is Possible

* American resources are great: 300 million people, $12 trillion in GDP compared to 25 million Iraqis, $100 billion Iraqi GDP in a country the size of California.

* Success requires effort and will, but we need not choose to lose.


Makes you wonder why we even bother, doesn't it? How could anyone ever blow such a one-sided affair? Notice, however, the subtle assumption that's being made. We're at war with the whole country! But we'll come back to that later. Notice also what's left out of the "effort-and-will" equation -- the cost in American lives.

Next slide please:

Proposal: Victory through Security

* Endstate is free and secure Iraq

* Acceptable increase in troops in Iraq:
- Creates security in Baghdad by Fall '07
- Creates options for future operations in Iraq


It's important to have those benchmarks -- "Fall '07." That gives us a sense of progress. But wait a minute -- "future operations in Iraq"? What does that mean? Does it suggest we're going to be there for a long, long time? Perhaps to take on Iran as well?

Oh well, let's move on. We'll take questions later. Next slide please:

Success is Possible

* Success is compatible with a volunteer military

* Proposal will not break the Army or the Marines

* Dramatic improvements in Iraq can occur in one year

* It does not require unacceptable bargains with hostile regimes."


The last is the important one. It says we can ignore the Iraq Study Group's suggestion that we try to bring other Middle Eastern powers into the process and just can handle things ourselves. That's made clear in Slide 7:
Other Approaches Will Fail

* Iran and Syria support violence in Iraq, but do not control it

* Negotiating with Iran and Syria will not stop violence

* Training Iraqi units takes too long -- violence is accelerating beyond the ability of the Iraqi military to control


There's certainly enough violence in Iraq right now. Fortunately for us, most of it is Iraqis fighting each other. But that will change soon enough. Once we offer them a target that is big enough, they'll all turn against us.

That final bullet is worth dwelling on, since it's eerily reminiscent of what General William Westmoreland was telling President Johnson in 1965. We had already been in Vietnam four years as "military advisers" and commandos (the Green Berets) trying to put the South Vietnamese Army on its feet. Then Westmoreland came back with the bad news -- they couldn't handle it. We needed American soldiers to do the job -- 50,000 at first, although within four years it was up to 500,000 and still asking for more.

What that bullet point says is that, after four years in Iraq, we are still at the beginning of the process. It will only take another 20,000 troops, but if that doesn't work it will be 50,000. Pretty soon our casualties will mount and we certainly can't give up at that point - that would be a blot on our honor.

Just how many enemies we'll soon be fighting is made clear by the following eight-or-so slides in which Kagan is forced to employ 10-point type to detail them all:

Shia Fighters:

- Jaysh al-Mahdi and other Sadrists: Objectives:
* Rivalry with other Shia factions for master of the Iraqi government post-Coalition withdrawal and imposition of Shia Sharia law...

- Badr Corps and other Politically affiliated Militia, Objectives:
* Revenge killings of Sunni militants, and intimidation murder/torture of Sunni civilians to drive them from mixed districts...

- Shia Vigilantes: objectives:
* Locally oriented groups primarily oriented towards protecting the Shia civilian population ...

Sunni Fighters

- Al-Qaida in Iraq and Affiliated Iraqi Islamists: objectives:
*Coerce Coalition withdrawal through Coalition casualties and destabilization....

- Sunni Baathist/Military: Objectives:
* Restore Sunni supremacy and protect the Sunni population against Shia ascendancy

- Sunni Vigilantes: Objectives:
* Some elements want to drive out Shia civilians from mixed neighborhoods...


And on and on.

And that's not the half of it. Last week American and Iraqi troops took on 300 armed zealots in Najaf who called themselves "The Army of God." This was a Shi'ite splinter group planning to attack Shi'ite pilgrims on Ashoura, the holiest day in the Shi'ite calendar, plus kill the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the highest Shi'ite cleric in Iraq. Why? Because they are followers of the Hidden Imam, a 12-year-old boy who declared himself the Twelfth Imam in the 8th century and then disappeared but will come back to rule the world one day if all the other pretenders can be wiped off the face of the earth.

In other words, this is a whole country filled with David-Koresh-like cult lunatics. And we're going to be taking on all of them at once. The task before us is summed up in one little bullet point on slide 57: "Disarm Shi'ite Militia." That's like finding a memo in the Marine logs of 1945 saying, "Take Iwo Jima."

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE of all this? Supposedly we went into Iraq four years ago to liberate the Shi'ia from the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein. Go back and read the Weekly Standard of that period and you'll find the same AEI scholars -- Kagan, Reuel Gerecht, Stephen Schwartz -- all singing the praises of the Iraqi Shi'ia as an oppressed minority (majority) eager to embrace democracy. That's where Dick Cheney got the idea we would be welcomed as liberators.

Well they did appreciate being liberated -- and some actually welcomed us for a few weeks. But the Shi'ia have turned out to be just what you would expect -- religious radicals ready to impose Sharia. Why wouldn't we expect a Shi'ia-dominated Iraq to become good friends with Shi'ia Iran? In warning Iran to "stay out of Iraq," we are trying to prevent an emerging Middle Eastern order that we ourselves have created.

Scholars of the Middle East note that the Shi'ia-Sunni conflict is really an ethnic rivalry. Islam was founded in 630 A.D. among Arabian tribes on the Arabian Peninsula. From there it quickly spread -- by the sword -- to non-Arab regions to present-day Iraq and Iran. These new converts remained second-class Moslems, however, while the Arabs -- "Sons of the Prophet" -- were first-class. (Even in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Arab muhajedeen insisted on special privileges that made them much resented by the non-Arab Afghans.)

The tension between Arabs and non-Arabs came to a fracturing point at the Battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. -- the event that Shi'ia all over the world were honoring last week. It is worth rehearsing in detail, since it perfectly encompasses the Shi'ite worldview.

Hussein Ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, became the informal leader of non-Arabs. He believed he had been promised the throne upon the death of Caliph Mu'awiyya, who sat in Baghdad. When the Caliph died, however, his son Yazid seized the throne instead. Hussein set out with an army to reclaim it.

Hussein's "army," however, consisted of only about 70 followers, some of them women and children. Yazid met them fifty miles south of Baghdad with an army of several thousand and politely asked him to surrender. Hussein spent five days contemplating the hopelessness of the situation, and then decided to do battle anyway. His "army" was obliterated and his head carried on a stake. When hundreds of thousands of Shi'ia parade through the streets on Ashoura, lacerating their heads with razors, they are punishing themselves for not being with Hussein at Karbala.

In other words, the Shi'ia have martyrdom in their blood. They are filled with the sense that the world is against them and they are battling a hopeless cause. Does it seem likely that Shi'ia death-squads in Sadr City are politely going to lay down their arms when American troops arrive? They will fight to the last man and then some.

Isn't that worth a bullet point somewhere in "Success for Victory"? (Or is it "Victory for Success"?)

THE COMPETING PROPOSALS FOR GETTING out of this mess are so legion that I won't bother to enumerate them here. Ideas are coming from every direction. All have the same thrust -- think in terms of regional stability. Do what President Nixon did when he went to China -- turn the tables with an unexpected diplomatic initiative that redefines the situation and puts us in the role of a peacemaker.

We have already unleashed the dogs of war in the Middle East. We could stay in Baghdad for another five years, put in another 200,000 troops (with 10,000 more casualties), and two weeks after we left the same warring parties would be at it again. Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran all have a dog in the fight. They're going to get involved no matter what.

So why not skip the whole concept of "military victory" and get to the negotiating table right now? Convene a special section of the Arab League, bring in Iran (not a member), and play the honest broker. Isn't that Theodore Roosevelt-like role a more fitting objective for the world's leading power? Or would we rather to spend the next two years fighting our way through the grungy streets of Sadr City trying to confiscate every last Kalashnikov?

If George Bush doesn't do this by 2008, the new Democratic President is going to do it for him. There won't be enough Republicans left in Washington to object.

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About the Author
William Tucker is news editor for RealClearEnergy.org.