BAGHDAD -- Last week was not a good one for those who were starting to feel a little optimism about the direction of events in Iraq. At last count, some 200 people have been killed by car bombs and gunmen gone wild. I happened to witness one of the car bombs about a quarter mile away from my office window. It was by far the loudest and most frightening of any I have ever seen or heard. It is now reported to have been a 500 lb. bomb. If that is true, then a quarter of a mile is as close as I ever want to be to one of those things.
There is no doubt that what is going on here is a Shiite versus Sunni battle that has the potential of turning into an honest-to-God civil war. Very early last Wednesday morning, I heard a car bomb go off in the distance. I have learned from six months of careful listening that car bombs have a peculiar and readily identifiable sound about them. Something akin to the V-1 "buzz bombs" that fell on London in the waning days of World War II.
What I had not realized at the moment I heard the explosion, was that the lives of 112 people had been snuffed out in that instant. A Sunni terrorist drove a mini-bus packed with explosives up to a crowd of day laborers; men waiting for an opportunity for a job that would enable them to put food on the table for the family for one more day. As the terrorist saw that his mini-bus was attracting the attention of the crowd, he beckoned the men to come closer with talk of jobs. At the moment that they pressed against the mini-bus, the terrorist detonated the car bomb and killed them all in the name of Islam.
I must confess to a sense of deep frustration when I hear many people (including President Bush) talk about how "a few terrorists have hijacked one of the world's great religions." What happened today in the name of Islam was unadulterated barbarism. Why is there no outcry of disgust from all the followers of "one of the world's great religions"? If the "vast majority of Islamists" are good people as we keep hearing, why haven't we heard from some of them?
I'D LIKE TO MENTION A COUPLE OF occurrences here from about three weeks ago. The first was an announcement that the U.S. will remain in Iraq for four more years. That piece of news, coming as it did, in the midst of "withdrawal schedule" prattle, had a very positive impact on the morale and spirit of most Iraqis. Regardless of what you might hear or read in the mainstream media, the vast majority of Iraqis don't want us going anywhere. They were enormously encouraged to hear we are going to be here for quite a while longer.
Iraqis who think about and plan for their futures (and that's quite a few of them) were starting to wonder if the "withdrawal schedule" being flogged so eagerly in the MSM was not evidence that George W. was forgetting Margaret Thatcher's strong admonition to Bush Senior not to "go wobbly." But most agree that Bush the Younger does not require this kind of spinal reinforcement at all.
Talk about an early withdrawal once again brought up the Vietnam analogy. This time, however, it was not about "quagmire," but about "bugout," which many see as another possible analogy between the two wars. Whatever someone like the ever-fatuous Barbara Boxer may be saying, talk about the U.S. leaving Iraq has simply not found an audience here.
A second event three weeks ago involved my good fortune in sitting in on an impromptu and informal meeting of senior military officers. Some were active duty; some were retired and in Iraq with major contractors. As always in such get-togethers, the subject very quickly turned to the war and its progress. All the senior officers, to a man, asserted that we are winning -- but each warned that militarily it won't be a work of art. All of them, to a man, think we will win a major victory. Each warned, in somewhat different words, that Clausewitz might have trouble deciding precisely in which chapter of his book to highlight this victory. But the most important thing I learned was all are convinced that the U.S. and President Bush will achieve their vitally important long-term strategic and military objectives.
This group of officers (there were seven altogether) was in very close agreement on a number of issues and predictions. The first is that between now and the election at year's end, the level of violence and killing will be extremely high. All agreed that the violence will continue well into next spring. It will end only after one final, very bloody and convulsive explosion of death and violence. That explosion will have an incredulous "world watching in awe and wonder," as one of them put it. They all agreed this final bloody convulsion -- a remorseless and savage Shiite versus Sunni battle -- will be an absolutely essential part of the process of readying Iraq for a peaceful future.
These officers also agreed that the deciding element in settling the convulsion will be the new Iraqi Army. A growing number of well-informed observers are becoming convinced that the Americans are in the process of creating an army that will fight, an army that won't run, and an army whose main interests are secular. At present the new Iraqi Army is earning its spurs in the west, far from the prying eyes of the U.S. and international media who are not prone to leaving the creature comforts of Baghdad, such as they are. The Iraqi Army performed well the other week in Tal Afra. It will probably succeed in sealing off the Syrian border; something long in need of being done. It is becoming the tip of the spear, and, if the U.S. Army training officers have done their work well, we will be seeing more and more of these Iraqi soldiers all over the country.
Perhaps the most important lesson drawn from the meeting with the seven officers was that one can't simply fall into depression every time a car bomb explodes. What we have to do is to keep our eye on the "prize," which is the total achievement of our strategic goals in the Middle East. Those are the establishment of a powerful, long-term, military, economic, intelligence, and political presence in the entire area, with Iraq as its focal point and home base.
The Middle East has served as the cradle and fountainhead of every aspect of worldwide terrorism that Islam has attempted to impose on America and the West. No country in the Arab world is better suited to be the "headquarters" of the war against Islamic terrorism than Iraq. It is centrally located, inherently rich, and of all the Arab countries the least Islamist and the most secular. Militarily, it is a country of wide open spaces. It has an infrastructure of many military bases, particularly air bases, which are Saddam's legacy. Today, in Northern Iraq, which is distinctly friendly to the U.S., our military forces are settling in for a long stay. Bases in Northern Iraq will enable us to keep a very close eye on all those "friendly outposts of Islam" such as Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.
Americans have to realize that we live in an incredibly dangerous world and that we have clearly been at war since 9/11. What many Americans, aided and abetted by the liberal media, try to believe is that this is not a war because there are no massed and uniformed armies, and no front lines to be seen on maps in the morning papers. Absent those features, in their opinion, this is not a real war.
The Islamist terrorists fight their war with car bombs, suicide bombers, airliners crashing into buildings, and the killing of tens of thousands of women and children in the name of Allah and Islam. Theirs is indiscriminate killing intended to terrify and coerce the political leadership to engage in massive acts of appeasement so that "the Islamist will go away and leave us alone!"
In the next two years, in my opinion, the U.S. will have established the kind of presence in Iraq and Afghanistan that will enable us to wage the long-term war on Islamic terrorism that George Bush had in mind when, right after 9/11, he warned about the need for the American people to be prepared to fight a very long war.
During the Cold War the U.S. ringed the Soviet Union with bases in countries all over the Northern Hemisphere. That encirclement drove the Soviet leadership to fits of apoplexy and, occasionally, to very foolish foreign ventures.
During this war we won't be on the fringes of Islam. We will be in Iraq. We will be right in the heart of Islam. Right in the midst of the enemy who would kill us all. And, when the realization of that sinks in, the American people will finally know why we went to war in Iraq.
IF THE RESULTS OF THE IRAQI elections lead to the establishment of a secular government, then Bush and the U.S. will have been the clear winners. Everyone's choice for prime minister is Ayad Alawi. If he is whom we get, we and George Bush will have hit the jackpot.
The selection of Alawi as the eventual winner is primarily based on the conclusion that he has played his hand masterfully. He has put many miles between himself and the violence of the past 6 months. In fact, Alawi could campaign on the motto: "Let the good times roll!" and win handily.
Alawi is tough, secular, and a savage infighter. It may well turn out that his poor showing last January was a blessing in disguise for him. For Iraq to be ready for a stable government, there is agreement that the country will be required to go through a massive bloodletting. This process will ultimately exorcise all the demons left over from Saddam. If Alawi had won in January, he would have lost his turn because he mistimed his arrival. Fortunately for Alawi, it is not always good to be the early bird.
As the world's only superpower we have an obligation to ourselves and to the rest of the world to impose discipline on all the trouble-makers and terrorists, with or without the help of our allies. The obvious reason for this is that our safety and security demand it. To those who would ask, "Why is that our job?" my reply would be to suggest they read the speech Tony Blair delivered to Congress on July 17, 2003. On that occasion the Prime Minister was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his loyal support of the United States during the events leading up to the Iraq war.
Toward the end of his acceptance speech, Blair took careful note of what must cross the mind of every American by saying to us:
"And I know it's hard on America, and in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to, but always wanted to go... I know out there there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, 'Why me? Why us? And why America?'"
The Prime Minister answered his own question:
"Because destiny put you in this place in history, in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do."
John Connly Walsh works for an American company in Baghdad.
Copyright 2005 John Connly Walsh