So, President Bush outlined the Iraq War strategy, which looks an awful lot like the last strategy, i.e. be patient.
Now, similarity and familiarity doesn't mean the strategy is wrong, but obviously, if you weren't convinced it was a good strategy to begin with, you won't buy off on it now.
The problem with the most vociferous critics of this strategy, however, is that while they may be right in principle, they are totally wrong in the details.
We are in a terrorist war in Iraq, a terrorist war of unprecedented scale. It's not a classic counterinsurgency, insofar as there is not a unified enemy threat fighting under a single ideological banner. Instead, we fight a wide variety of groups intent on sowing chaos and destruction for various ends. Some approach a form of "legitimacy"-- they seek political power to rule Iraq. Some are greedy thugs. Many, however, are jihadist nihilists who would kill any "infidel" if given the chance.
A proper campaign against these enemies relies on a multitude of approaches, involving many elements of power. Bullets, bribery, propaganda, politicking, trickery-- this is not a "one size fits all" war.
That said, there is a "lowest common denominator" approach that applies to the war in Iraq no matter who our enemy is. Establish security. Train indigenous forces to replace us when we leave. Protect the Iraqi economy. Foster the development of legitimate and responsive civil institutions. The United States must accomplish these goals regardless of whether our enemy in Iraq is an ex-Baathist, a member of Al Qaeda, or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Yet, when speaking of common denominators, what's the one factor common to all of these objectives?
It takes time to do all of this. We can argue whether we're doing it right or doing it wrong-- I have myself, many times here at Garfield Ridge-- but the overall strategy requires time and patience in order to achieve the critical mass in these areas. Criticizing the President for repeatedly asking for patience is emphasizing the wrong issue-- for patience is a necessary, albeit insufficient, requirement for victory in Iraq.
We're not fighting a campaign against a traditional enemy, one with a center of gravity that can be assaulted with bombers and artillery, one where we can move in with an armored division and win the war in one fell swoop-- we *won* that phase of the war. The only way to win the war we have now is to kill those who need killing, protect those who need protecting, and convince the enemy's supporters-- and to those wavering on the fence-- that we will not leave until the free Iraqis can fend for themselves.
The Iraq War isn't about battle lines on a map-- it's about psychology. It's about convincing the people of Iraq that we're serious about staying the course, that we will not abandon them like we did in 1991, or like we did the people of South Vietnam. As long as they believe that we are "in it until we win it," we will make progress-- slow, painful, and deadly, yes, but we will make progress towards that "tipping point" where the Iraqis are strong enough to fend for themselves. But if we sow doubt in their minds, those fighting with us will sit on their hands, and those on the fence will fall into the enemy camp.
That is why the establishment of an artificial timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is so counterproductive. For if time is necessary to strengthen the free Iraqis so as to generate that psychological sense of independence on their part, then artificially cutting our presence short increases the likelihood of our defeat-- dramatically so, I believe.
The critics calling for a timeline, or even immediate withdrawal, pay lip service to an American victory but are willfully blind to the true nature of the Iraq War. In doing so, they have made their position clear: it is better to lose this war quickly than to win it slowly.
Losing this war will have dramatic repercussions, however. How many of these critics have thought those through? None, as far as I can tell.
Not only will Iraq be relegated to chaos for the foreseeable future-- an Al Qaeda haven writ large-- but far more importantly, America's word will be mud for decades to come. We will be the nation that bailed on South Vietnam, the nation that abandoned the Shiites in 1991, the nation that fled Beirut and Somalia, and now the nation that left Iraq in the face of our jihadist enemies-- mortal enemies who have attacked us on our own soil! Who will ally with America after this?
Does anyone think that our jihadist enemies would not be emboldened by our defeat in Iraq, made even hungrier in the process? If they could defeat America's military in Iraq, they can defeat us anywhere. And they will come, that much is certain.
And the jihadis are not our only adversaries on the world stage. Others have already taken note of our struggle in Iraq. No war is fought in a vacuum.
We can still lose this war. The only question now is whether we choose to.
You think George Bush lied to get us into war? Fine. You think that George Bush is inept and bumbling and has bungled this war from Day One? Sure. You can gripe about him, and take your anger out at the polls, and vote his party from office.
But we are in the war now. No amount of Monday morning quarterbacking will change that. You can crow about WMD intelligence all you want, that doesn't change a damn thing on the streets of Baghdad. It also does not mean that from this day forward the war can not be won just because something bad happened before.
So, a request, and a warning, to the critics. I ask that you stop demanding that we leave on a timetable, and instead look at the metrics we're using to judge our progress in this war. THAT'S where the issue will be decided.
As for the warning: to continue pressing for an artificial timetable is to place domestic political concerns above our victory in this war. If you insist on this, I can only lament that your political advantage was more important than America's safety and security. I hope you take comfort in winning your arguments on Hardball and in the New York Times, as your hollow victories will have been paid for in American and Iraqi blood. I hope you win all sorts of electoral victories, as you'll be the ones responsible for leadership in a world made infinitely more dangerous by our surrender.