A new wave of assassinations of Iraqi officials, coupled with attacks on police stations, indicates that the insurgents better understand the nature of the struggle to control the country than does the United States. Washington has lagged behind in the crucial task of creating local security forces backed by a well-trained army. Making matters worse, in recent weeks coalition forces have backed off in their efforts to crush the insurgency prior to the handover of authority to an interim Baghdad government after June 30.
In the debate over lessons to be learned so far from the Iraq campaign, a consensus has formed around two main errors in planning that have undermined the stellar victories gained during the initial U.S.-led invasion. First, not enough troops were committed to pacify the country, particularly the Sunni triangle northwest of Baghdad. Second, the ante bellum Iraqi army and security forces were dismantled completely rather than merely purged of Baathist leaders and reformed to carry on their legitimate functions. Though some antiwar critics have attempted to score partisan points, supporters of the war effort have a more important need to see these defects corrected so as to insure victory now and in future conflicts.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon whiz kids act as if nothing has happened to spoil their virtual world theories of how warfare ought to be conducted. Plans still emphasize a devotion to speed, both for deployment and withdrawal. The so-called "10-30-30" scenario has major forces moving to a distant theater in 10 days, defeating an enemy within 30 days, and then withdrawing to fight somewhere else within another 30 days. Like the Iraq war plan, nothing is allowed for occupation and reconstruction. A regime may be ousted, but not replaced.
Also, restructuring the Army for such rapid movement calls for fielding "light" units that can be moved by air in place of heavy armored units whose equipment must travel by ship. Yet, in order to provide needed firepower to support the Marines, the 1st Armored Division and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment are being kept in Iraq past their planned date of withdrawal, indicating the continuing need for heavy armor in a fight.
Real war is about more than just blowing things up. In his speech May 24 at the Army War College, President George W. Bush said the insurgents in Iraq "are good at filling hospitals, but they do not build any." That is why terrorists cannot win wars. They cannot control people, territory and resources like a government can that is defended by a large and competent army. Wars have political objectives, and it takes boots on the ground to control the political environment. A government that is unable or unwilling to provide security may allow terrorists to expand into a broader movement that can contest for control of the country.
Republicans are rightly thought to have a more realistic view of world politics as contentious and dangerous, requiring strong military forces for the projection of power. Yet, with the notable exception of Ronald Reagan (who both expanded and rearmed the Army), Republican administrations have devalued ground troops in pursuit of high-tech "silver bullets" meant to make war-fighting clean and tidy. These notions have run from President Eisenhower's embrace of nuclear "massive retaliation" to the Nixon Doctrine's post-Vietnam reliance on naval and air power to the current obsession with "precision strikes" launched from somewhere over the horizon. And while no one, certainly not the "bloody infantry," would want to lose for an instant America's technological leadership and aerial supremacy, these advantages are still only supports for the real task of winning wars and securing a new political order in accord with U.S. interests.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's rejection of war plans involving more ground troops has been matched to his resistance to calls for rebuilding the military force levels so deeply cut by the Clinton Administration. This mistaken line of thought may be responsible for the inadequate effort to stand up a new Iraqi army. President Bush in his speech spoke of "a force of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, and other security personnel....The eventual goal is an Iraqi army of 35,000 soldiers in 27 battalions, fully prepared to defend their country." Defend it from what, jay walkers? The Middle East is the world's most militarized region. The goal should be an Iraqi army at least ten times this size, backed by substantial paramilitary formations and not just "police."
What is keeping the insurgency at a level that is threatening stability in Iraq and resolve in the United States is the aid the insurgents are getting from Syria and Iran. Outside support is always critical to an uprising, both in its initial surge of violence and, more importantly, for its ability to grow into a movement that can challenge the government for power. The ruling circles of both Syria and Iran have every reason to believe that the survival of their dictatorial regimes depends on the failure of the American effort in Iraq. Rogue states and Islamic jihadists are united in their desire to drive the United States out of the Middle East. Iraq is now the central battleground in that struggle.
Syria and Iran will continue to be staging areas for attacks inside Iraq until forced to stop. One or both may even be tempted to augment Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters with elements of their own armed forces, particularly if they see a chance to break the new Iraqi army and inflict politically damaging casualties on American forces. Syria has a standing army of 250,000 men, plus paramilitary units and ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terrorist network. Iran has 475,000 regular soldiers, but the 350,000 Revolutionary Guards would be the most likely pool of "volunteers" to join a war in Iraq.
Syria sent infantry and tanks to support Palestinian fighters against Jordan in 1970. This was also the pattern in Vietnam, where North Vietnam escalated from guerrilla warfare to a conventional invasion. Bombing campaigns alone were not enough to deter or halt Hanoi's operations. North Vietnam's victory has long been the model every other anti-American movement has wanted to duplicate.
Despite President Bush's commitment to doing the right thing in Iraq, his administration continues to underestimate what it will take to get the job done. That Moqtada al-Sadr remains at large and in command of his Mahdi Army indicates a desire to merely contain threats, not end them. His recent statements of wanting to work with the interim government is limited to his desire to have American troops withdrawn. As Iran's catspaw, al-Sadr is irreconcilable. U.S. strategy should be to eliminate al-Sadr before June 30. Yet, a truce has been negotiated with al-Sadr in Najaf that allows him to survive to fight another day, despite being charged with the murder of another cleric and refusing to disband his outlawed militia.
Meanwhile, in the Sunni city of Fallujah, the truce negotiated there with insurgents has left the area in the hands of the same gunmen who battled the Marines through most of April. They were supposed to give way to Iraqi police and civil defense units. A so-called Fallujah Brigade was to restore order. Instead, according to Daniel Williams writing from the scene for The Washington Post on June 7, "the brigade stays outside of town in tents, the police cower in their patrol cars and the civil defense force nominally occupies checkpoints on the city's fringes but exerts no influence over the masked insurgents who operate only a few yards away." Quoting American officials, Rowan Scarborough reported in The Washington Times June 14, "A new Iraqi-run brigade set up to enforce peace in Fallujah has yet to begin any missions against bands of insurgents who still roam the frontier town." It looks more and more like the truce talks with militants have been aimed mainly at reducing American casualties during an election year, not in creating a more secure Iraq.
A strong Iraqi military under a Baghdad government allied with the United States is essential if the Middle East is to be transformed so as to enhance American security interests. And an expanded American military, especially in ground troops, will be needed to shape the turbulent global politics of the 21st century. But little if any progress is being made on either task, with the risk that there could be a much more politically damaging flare up in violence– in Iraq and perhaps elsewhere-- as the U.S. presidential election nears.
In his classic Korean War study This Kind of War, T. R. Fehrenbach could see where military technology was headed. But his wisdom was in seeing what technology could not change despite the passage of nearly 40 years. He wrote, "a modern infantry may ride sky vehicles into combat, fire and sense its weapons through instrumentation, employ devices of frightening lethality in the future---but it must also be old-fashioned enough to be iron-hard, poised for instant obedience, and prepared to die in the mud." His timeless conclusion: "A nation that does not prepare for all the forms of war should then renounce the use of war in national policy."