Note: Part 6 of a six part series. Return to Part I
Regardless of whether or not there were WMDs, I believe it was not only desirable, but necessary to confront the regime guilty of mass-murdering hundreds of thousands of its oppressed citizens, guilty of utilizing banned chemical weapons, guilty of harboring known terrorists, guilty of funding terrorist organizations and homicide bombers, guilty of invading two neighboring countries for no reason but regional domination, guilty of defying countless U.N. resolutions and guilty of constantly harassing and expelling U.N. weapons inspectors. After 9/11, it would have been a dereliction of duty for the president to look the other way.
The invasion plan was brilliant and had the Turkish parliament not balked at the eleventh hour, many of the issues with which we are now dealing may never have materialized. But there is a saying in military planning that no plan ever survives the first shot. Battle plans are going to change based upon battlefield realities. So the true test of Bush’s performance in Iraq is not why did things not work out as planned, but how did he manage to overcome the challenges presented by the changing situation.
Given the surprise decision by the Turks, he made the only sound decision he could have. He didn’t call off the invasion, emboldening Saddam and our terrorist enemies. He didn’t bottleneck our troops up on the southern border and give the enemy another month to prepare. He invaded with the 3rd ID, Marines and Brits from the south to be followed by the 4th ID for mop up operations. Given the alternatives, Bush made the right choice.
Although this change in plans led to a week or so of looting in Baghdad and the inability to clear out the Sunni Triangle as anticipated, Bush managed, with his plan but only half the mechanized force that he had imagined, to avoid mass starvation and disease, to avoid an epoch refugee crisis, to avoid potentially deadly attacks on Iraq’s neighbors, to avoid a war between the Turks and Kurds, to avoid thousands of American casualties in bloody urban warfare and to avoid the drowning of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis from Saddam’s threatened destruction of dams. And given that any of these potential humanitarian or international calamities would have been disastrous, I think a week or so of looting was small potatoes in comparison.
Could more troops have alleviated the looting? Sure, but remember, the problem at the time wasn’t the number of troops, it was, thanks to the Turks, where the 4th ID was and the real-time battlefield decisions that had to be made to compensate for their repositioning. Choices had to be made and ultimately it was more important to secure the dams and bridges, strengthen supply lines for delivery of humanitarian aid, eliminate the threat of attacks on Iraq’s neighbors, avoid a refugee crisis, keep the Turks and Kurds on their respective sides of the border and avoid potentially bloody urban conflict than it was to get bogged down in trying to stop several thousand Iraqis from looting. Bush acted to protect human life over protecting comparatively inconsequential possessions.
There is no doubt that our inability to clear out the Sunni Triangle in the initial invasion has led to a more effective insurgency. This insurgency has three goals. First, insurgents wanted to stop the transfer of power to Iraqis. Second, I believe insurgents would like to affect the U.S. presidential race. Third, the insurgents want to make it impossible to have elections in January. Before taking on the insurgents, Bush wanted to put an Iraqi face on the government and so the U.S. brilliantly transferred power 2 days early, avoiding any potential attacks timed to coincide with the transfer.
Since the transfer, we and the new Iraqi government have taken a potential international incident and peacefully resolved Muqtada al-Sadr’s seizure of the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. Additionally, we orchestrated a seemingly successful weapons-for-cash program to disarm a good part of Sadr’s Mehdi Army. We have also normalized and started reconstruction in Najaf, Samarra, Karbala and Hillah. We are currently negotiating with local leaders in Fallujah for the hand over of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We are also receiving and acting upon intelligence gathered from Iraqis fleeing Fallujah who are eager to help us dislodge the foreign terrorist from their city.
It was vitally important to put an Iraqi face on the government and that initially took precedence over defeating the insurgency. And Bush’s decision to boldly follow through on the transfer of power actually aided us in our negotiations with one of the two insurgencies. Do you think that, we alone, could have talked Sadr and the Mehdi Army into peacefully disarming and relinquishing control of the holy shrine in Najaf? Again, because Bush made the right choices, the holiest Shiite shrine was saved and Sadr’s followers have largely ceased their attacks and turned in their arms.
Now there’s Zarqawi. Over the past 4 or 5 months, we have made several incursions into Fallujah, but never felt like we were in a position to take the city. We needed more intelligence and to weaken the insurgency prior to the final assault. Over the past few months, while attending to the resolution of the Sadr insurgency, we have been gaining intelligence from the weary residents and softening the targets with precision strikes aimed at thinning out the insurgency, disrupting their ability to organize and destroying potentially deadly weapons caches.
Being patient enough to gather better intelligence and soften the resistance has probably saved many American lives. Zarqawi is not stupid and he is receiving help from non-Iraqi sources, maybe al Qaeda. Zarqawi is attempting to draw us into an urban trap where he can make the doomsday pundits’ warnings come true. Is the way to fight a stubborn urban insurgency flooding the area with more troops? Only if you want mass casualties. The way to battle an urban insurgency is to do exactly what the Bush administration decided to do, gain intelligence, negotiate with local leaders and soften the targets with precision air strikes before a ground assault.
Once the assault on Fallujah is complete and Zarqawi and his followers are neutralized, most of the deadly attacks will cease and the major insurgencies of both Sadr and Zarqawi will have been either marginalized or defeated.
Meanwhile, reconstruction continues in a way that ensures a successful Iraqi civilization for years to come. We’re not doing for them, we are training and helping them to do for themselves. Although it has slowed recently due to the insurgency, what has been accomplished so far is nothing short of amazing. We’re basically rebuilding a country from scratch. And once the insurgency is quashed, the rapid pace of reconstruction will resume.
When making your final decision, please remember, Zarqawi wanted to stop the transfer of power, Bush brilliantly succeeded and Zarqawi failed. Zarqawi wanted to start a civil war between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, so far he has a limited following of Sunnis and the Shiites and Kurds are busy rebuilding their sections of Iraq, looking forward to January elections and are extremely optimistic about their future in a liberated Iraq. So far Bush has succeeded and Zarqawi has failed. Zarqawi has targeted Iraqi police and Iraqi military in an effort to quash recruitment. The recruiting lines are just as long as they have ever been and the success of the Iraqi military in Samarra has sent morale through the roof. So far, Bush has succeeded and Zarqawi has failed.
Zarqawi also wants to affect the U.S. presidential election and whether he succeeds or fails is entirely up to us. Regardless of whether Bush or Kerry will be tougher on terrorism and/or more committed to success in Iraq, causing Americans to fire the man who began the war on terror would be a major symbolic win for Zarqawi, Usama bin Laden, Iran and North Korea.
ERRATA – THE KERRY QUESTION
For those who have turned toward Senator Kerry out of frustration at the lack of perceived progress in Iraq, let’s examine how John Kerry (from what we know of him to this point) might have performed were he in the President’s shoes.
Let’s assume that a Kerry administration had decided to confront Iraq and upon recommendation of his generals, Kerry had amassed troops along Iraq’s borders with Kuwait and Turkey.
How would Kerry have decided to proceed after the last minute decision of the Turkish parliament? With the absence of the 4th ID, would he have ACTED to save the dams, expedite humanitarian aid, keep the peace between the Turks and Kurds, eliminate the threat of attacks against Iraq’s neighbors and avoid an epoch refugee crisis? Or would Kerry have dropped everything else and REACTED to the news on the T.V. and tried to stop the looting in Baghdad?
How would a Kerry administration have handled the transfer of power at a time the insurgency was strengthening and dedicated to keep the transfer from happening? Would he have seen the wisdom of putting an Iraqi face on the government or would he have delayed the transfer while dealing with the insurgency? And would Kerry have been creative enough to transfer early to avoid attacks to coincide with the hand over?
Would Kerry have been able to peacefully resolve the standoff at the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf and worked out a deal to encourage the Mehdi Army to exchange their weapons for cash?
Kerry is on record as saying we didn’t have enough troops in Iraq to handle the insurgency, to win the peace. Would Kerry have seen the wisdom in patience, gaining more and better intelligence and softening the resistance before beginning a ground assault? Or is it his contention that the way to engage in urban warfare is to send in a huge number of troops and incur massive casualties to take Fallujah back at any cost?
And I’m afraid we wouldn’t have to ask how Kerry would have handled reconstruction. It is clear that, under a Kerry administration, the U.N. would be in charge of the effort. The U.N.’s record of developing fledgling democracies and rebuilding countries is the epitome of waste, fraud and bureaucracy.
I am not going to ask you to vote for Bush. That’s a decision you have to make. If you decide to vote for Kerry, at least I can feel comfortable that you will be doing so with the full knowledge of both sides of the story.