We’ve renewed the great debate on Iraq, and as usual the central issue — the regional nature of the war — is not addressed. Still, one is grateful to Eliot Cohen and Bing West for some long-needed suggestions in their excellent article in the Wall Street Journal. Above all, they raise the question of “Iraqi justice,” one of the central requirements if the Iraqi people are going to have any confidence in the future.
West and Cohen say that 80 percent of all arrested people are released without a sentence, and they point out that many of those people were originally arrested by American forces. If you want to understand the frustration of our troops, this is probably the best place to start. Americans are killed, we investigate, find the people we believe are guilty, and arrest them. We then turn them over to local authorities for processing. But the “justice system” is totally centralized in Baghdad; there are no local judges to pronounce sentences, and all cases go to Baghdad. Baghdadi courts are not a model of efficiency, thus alleged killers walk. Not just once, but many times. They kill again, are arrested again, and walk again. That’s the sort of thing that sometimes drives some soldiers to go on vigilante rampages when they see men walking around who are believed to have killed GIs or Marines.
There must be local courts, otherwise the increase in the prison population for which West and Cohen call will be politicized, ethnicized, or tribalized, depending on what’s happening in Baghdad.
Their other excellent recommendation is to dramatically increase the number of embedded Coalition soldiers. And while we’re at it, somebody should compel the sleepy defense ministry in Baghdad to pay the Iraqi troops. The discretionary funds in the hands of our field commanders can make up some of the slack, but that is totally improper. Maliki et. al. say they want sovereign authority. Fine. Let them act like a government and pay their employees.
Note that an increase in embeds doesn’t necessarily require an increase in overall troop strength. We’ve got lots of soldiers sitting on megabases all over Iraq. They should be out and about, some of them embedded, others just moving around, tracking the terrorists, hunting them down. I don’t know how many guys and gals are sitting in air-conditioned quarters and drinking designer coffee, but it’s a substantial number. Enough of that.
I do not agree with their suggestion we should threaten withdrawal. That’s already happened; Pelosi, Reid, and Murtha do it every day. I have no doubt the Iraqis and everyone else in the region expect us to leave sooner rather than later. What else could they think? Saying it one more time weakens our influence even further, whereas demonstrating a will to win this war is the best, indeed the only way to gain prestige and strength in the eyes of the people and their leaders.
And the only way to demonstrate a will to win is to go after the Iranians and the Syrians, as well as the terrorists already inside Iraq. God knows the evidence of Syrian involvement is overwhelming, and the latest information reportedly shows they are on both sides of the Sunni/Shiite divide. If we continue to blither ineffectually about how “unhelpful” the mullahs and the Assads are, everyone in those parts will understand that we do not yet have the will to win this war.
If we do not tackle Syria, we will simply provide the terrorists with more targets. If we do go after them, we may yet win this thing. As luck would have it, this is the ideal moment to go after the Iranians, since their supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is either dead or dying, and a vicious internal power struggle is under way in Tehran. We should propose a better solution to the Iranian people: revolution, leading to their freedom. That would require the president and the secretary of State to call for regime change in Iran and Syria, something from which they have always retreated in the past.
But if we want to win, that’s the first step. Anybody ready?
– Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. He is resident scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.