Politics & Policy

Countering The Insurgency

The right strategy in Iraq.

We have passed through a period of hesitation in Iraq. With major military operations supposedly ending in April, Coalition forces had been conducting their counterinsurgency operations slowly–almost incrementally–over the past several months. Now, after bloody November proved that approach inadequate, American commanders are conducting broader, more sweeping cordon-and-search operations in many parts of the Sunni Triangle. And while that is going on, the Pentagon has struck another blow for freedom, banning reconstruction contracts for companies that come who fought the war effort.

#ad#Back in May, Donald Rumsfeld disinvited the French to our major air-war games, Red Flag and Cope Thunder. The flying frogboys were terribly insulted, and a very real message was delivered: You are not part of our team any more, so don’t expect to share in the benefits of our training and tactical thinking. Now deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz has decreed that only companies that come from Coalition member nations will be able to compete for about $18.6 billion in reconstruction contracts. Wolfowitz’s determination is both just and proper, and the howls from the Euromob are music to the ear. It’s never about anything other than money with that bunch, and this hurts them where they think it counts most.

Wolfowitz’s December 5 memo says that because the president has determined that the reconstruction of Iraq is a national-security priority of the United States, “It is necessary for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States to limit competition for the prime contracts of these procurements to companies from the United States, Iraq, Coalition partners and force contributing nations.” So the Brits, the Aussies, the Poles, the Dutch, and companies from a total of 63 nations are welcome. The French, the Germans, the Belgians, and the Russians–are not. Once again, the message is clear. Those who cannot be bothered to help defeat terrorism cannot be trusted to help build freedom.

Protests over the Wolfowitz decision are spluttering up all over. The usual suspects are mincing and whining about profits being steered to American companies and our pals. According to the New York Times, Delaware’s Ol’ Joe Biden called Wolfowitz’s action a “totally gratuitous slap” that would alienate important allies. (Such as the French?) The Beeb is already chock-a-block with quotes from the Germans (it’s “unacceptable”), Canadian threats to discontinue their support for the reconstruction, French huffing about taking a complaint to the WTO, and the Russian statement that they won’t write off Saddam’s $8 billion debt to them. (Iraq can write it off, and should. The debts of an illegitimate government such as Saddam’s cannot be enforced).

Even if we didn’t have good reason for excluding French, German, and Russian companies–which we do because of their governments’ opposition to the war–we should exclude them because of what those governments are doing right now. We should have strong trade sanctions against nations that trade with terrorist nations. Which includes, among others, means the EU.

Earlier this week the EU announced the conclusion of negotiations with Syria on a new economic-cooperation agreement. If they trade with terrorists, they will let workers–i.e., terrorist agents and operatives–be employed by their companies in Iraq. Such nations, and their businesses, cannot be trusted to create or to maintain the on-the-ground security essential to the success of the massive construction projects in Iraq. And excluding the demonstrably untrustworthy is necessary to the success of our crackdown on the insurgents.

For months now, two warriors of my acquaintance have been arguing that we should do what we have now begun. “See where the terrorist attacks come from,” they said, “cordon off the entire area, force everyone out, and search them as they come. Arrest those who are suspected, go in, seize weapons, and clear the area of the dangers as best we can. Bulldoze the buildings that arms and explosives are found in, and then let people we haven’t detained back in.”

You can’t cordon and search a big city all at once, but you can do it in neighborhoods. And that’s part of what we are doing now. Given the pace of attacks in November, we have a yardstick by which we can measure the success of this tactic. Already, as Gen. Myers said in the Wednesday Pentagon briefing, we see an upsurge in reliable intelligence coming from ordinary Iraqis. If the intel flow remains high, and the attacks abate, the cordon and search should continue anywhere the attacks occur. Let’s stop worrying about winning the hearts and minds.

Recent polling in Iraq suggests that support for the Baathist remnants and foreign insurgents is pretty low. Most Iraqis–if you believe the polls–don’t support attacks on Coalition forces and think those attacks are made by terrorists. We can worry a lot less about popular opinion, and concentrate on defeating the enemy. Iraqis, like people everywhere, want the freedom that peace affords. And Iraqis, like everyone (at least everyone not running for the Democratic presidential nomination) realize that peace is about winners and losers. The Baathists and foreign insurgents don’t yet have to admit they have lost. We have to change that.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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