When President Bush addresses the nation tonight, his main themes ought to be encapsulated by just two pithy quotes from intelligent supporters of his overall war aims.
From the stalwart Sen. Joe Lieberman: “In war, there are two exit strategies. One is called victory. The other is called defeat.”
From Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a member (obviously dissenting) of an expert working group of the misguided Baker-Hamilton Commission: “Iraq overwhelms. Yet it shouldn’t.”
The situation is simple: If the United States withdraws without securing a workable peace, its exiting personnel will be in a horribly dangerous position and, far worse in the long run, the resulting chaos in the Middle East could destabilize even “friendly” regimes such as Jordan. The resulting conflagration would not merely make the entire Middle East a field of unimaginable slaughter (and, by the way, mess up the oil supply and thus drastically harm the world economy), but also embolden terroristic jihadists worldwide. The attacks of 9/11, on our own soil, would be child’s play compared to what the jihadists could do against a United States that had forfeited its honor and all of the diplomatic advantages that flow from strength.
Such would be the scope of the “defeat” about which Sen. Lieberman spoke.
Critics, though, George Will among them, seem to think that no matter how much we detest the idea of defeat, it matters not because the victory Sen. Lieberman referenced is just not realistic. The gist of his recent Newsweek column on the subject is that it our misunderstanding of the lack of Iraqi civic culture led us into so many mistakes that it is now “too late” to win.
Rarely has the estimable George Will spouted such nonsense.
What is lacking in Iraq is not winnability but will. The history of military affairs makes certain lessons clear. They can be summarized by a simple equation, if applied in the long run: Force size plus technology plus willpower equals victory. Or as it was put in the U.S. Army’s official, longstanding volume called “American Military History” (1973), “Superior combat power must be concentrated at the critical time and place for a decisive purpose.” Yet by historical standards, the amount of power the United States has concentrated to secure the peace in Iraq — securing the peace having been an always-evident second phase of the war which had as its first phase the toppling of Saddam Hussein — has been minuscule.
The United States used three times as many troops just to kick Hussein’s army out of Kuwait in 1991 than we have used to try to secure the peace in the whole nation of Iraq this decade.
We have lost fewer troops to death — each one of them a tragedy — in Iraq in nearly four years than the victorious Union Army alone lost in three days at Gettysburg in 1863. In just over one month on Iwo Jima in 1945, the victorious United States suffered well more than twice as many deaths as we have in those four years in Iraq. And so on.
The sick irony is that our losses in Iraq might well have been less, and the peace secured already, if the United States had continued pouring more troops into that country (and to guard its borders with Iran and Syria) in the months after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell.
But it is sheer folly to assume that the violence in Iraq cannot be squelched with the application of enough force with the right tactics. How can anybody seriously think that American soldiers, in sufficient numbers and with their superior training and superior technology and superior firepower of all sorts, are incapable of providing security to a city (Baghdad) only three-fourths the population of New York, and a country just four-fifths the population of California?
Defeatists argue that the nature of this war is different — that it is sectarian violence involving fighters who slip in and out of the civilian population, who are highly difficult to recognize in the midst of that population, and who are particularly vicious and heedless of their own lives.
To me, that sounds like parts of New York City before Rudy Giuliani took over and made things right in just a few short years.
If that response sounds too flippant, then consider that insurgencies are not by their nature somehow invincible. In modern times, insurgencies that once seemed at least as unstoppable as the violence in Iraq have been defeated in all corners of the globe, from the Communist insurgency in Greece after World War II to the failed Marxist insurgencies in Central America in the 1980s.
Moreover, the little-recognized truth from Iraq is that even once-dicey areas of that country have been successfully cleared of terrorists, with civil society in those areas already showing signs of taking hold, when American troops have remained there long enough to “hold” the territories after first “clearing” the bad guys out. What remains is not a battle to pacify an entire country, but just to re-civilize one large city and a two other provinces (out of 18).
Are American power and American ingenuity (backed by important help from Great Britain, Poland, Denmark and others) so atrophied that we really are incapable of securing one small region of a nation whose natural topography (unlike mountainous Afghanistan) does not lend itself to easy hiding places?
President Bush has never, not once, leveled with the American people about the amount of sacrifices needed to win a real war and to secure a peace. He has frequently claimed to have a “plan” for final victory there, but never clearly defined it. But to his great credit, he has both recognized and tried hard to explain the moral case for taking on the burden there. What has been lacking, though, has been an explanation as full of practical, nitty-gritty examples as it has been of sometimes-soaring rhetoric.
Tonight’s address is the president’s last chance to get it right. He must remind people of the initial, demonstrable benefits of the toppling of Saddam Hussein, including the resultant elimination of Moammar Qaddafi’s developing nuclear program in Libya. He must outline what the other benefits of continued engagement will be. And he must be clear about what the costs will be, just as Winston Churchill told the English populace about the likelihood of “blood, toil, tears and sweat” in times far, far more dire.
Make no mistake: President George W. Bush has been brave and wise in choosing to fight in Iraq. This fight is a profoundly moral one. Bush’s task tonight is to convince us of the truth that it remains a practical fight as well.
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