Progress in Iraq?

I haven’t written about the war in Iraq (or, as I prefer to call it, “the Iraq campaign in the War On Terror”) in a while. This hasn’t been done out of despair or an attempt to downplay my prior support for it, but because I really haven’t had anything original to add to the discussion. It’s been my belief that I can not possibly write something others will find interesting unless I find it interesting myself, and I haven’t been able to meet that standard.

Yesterday, I read something that gave me ideas.

Go and read it, then come back. I’ll wait.

A few observations that Wretchard doesn’t make came to mind. This is in no way a criticism of him, but more along the lines of “too simple and basic for him to think merit mentioning.” As I am a strict amateur on such matters, “too simple and basic” is not a valid concept to me.

The first is that while the fighting in Iraq is not a conventional war, but as a war certain principles nonetheless apply. One of those principles is that one crucial element of winning the war is determining the goals of the enemy, and denying them those goals.

Our goal is simple, and laid out for all to see: we wish to see an Iraq that is no longer a threat to its neighbors, the region, and our interests. The method we are pursuing is to help Iraq form a stable, democratic government. (On a purely utilitarian basis, a program of genocide would probably also work.) So one of the key goals of our enemies is to prevent that from happening.

The goal of our enemy is a bit more nebulous, and even a bit diverse. Some wish to restore a dictatorship of the minority. Some wish to establish an Islamist tyranny. Many simply don’t have a lofty goal, just wish to wreak carnage. The common obstacle, though, is the Allied presence in Iraq — so their mutual short-term goal is to get the US and our allies out of Iraq.

Another element that Wretchard doesn’t touch upon is how geography is not as important as demographics in the fighting in Iraq. The critics of the current “surge” strategy are pointing out that while we focus our attention on Baghdad and its surrounds, the terrorists are expanding into areas they previously had not ventured. Our focus on one area has allowed them to have victories in other areas.

That’s one way of looking at it. Another — and, I think, more important — way of looking at it is sociological.

Baghdad is home to roughly 25% of the total population of Iraq. By moving their efforts out of Baghdad and into the hinterlands, they are pretty much conceding a full quarter of the battleground.

Here’s where another of the “big thinkers” (who, ironically, seems to have a very developed cerebrum and not an overgrown “lizard brain”) comes in. Dafydd ab Hugh, who’s earned my eternal envy for being both a successful novelist AND an outstanding blogger, has been looking closely at the details and minutiae of the “surge” strategy — and sees just how it is working so far.

So, is the “surge” the key to victory in Iraq? It’s still too early to tell. It seems to be working fairly well, and the changes in tactics by our enemies shows that they are reacting to it — and an enemy that is reacting, not acting, has given up the initiative.

Another possible complication is that there’s an old military truism that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Victory is not achieved by simply announcing a plan and carrying it out properly. That doesn’t take into account that there are people who deliberately trying to thwart that plan, and those people tend to be intelligent, adaptable, and highly motivated. They will do all they can to prevent that plan from succeeding.

But the essential element here is that currently, we have the initiative. We are acting, and they are reacting. And wars are seldom won by the reactors.

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