Politics & Policy


Staying the course in Iraq.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a four-part series of exerpts from Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror, by Thomas McInerney and Paul Vallely.

We were not at all surprised–and, in fact, predicted–that the Iraqi military would collapse rapidly in the face of the American-led coalition. We also are not entirely surprised at the failure of inspectors to find the weapons of mass destruction that every intelligence agency in the world believed that Saddam Hussein had. We are not surprised because we believe we know where these weapons are: in Syria and Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon. And we believe they will be found, if not by the United States then by Israel, which has an overwhelming interest in keeping these weapons out of the hands of terrorist groups–an interest that won’t be swayed by diplomatic niceties.

What already has been found in Iraq is an astonishing amount of conventional weapons in stockpiles throughout the country. In one unit’s area of operations in Iraq, there were sixty-two ammunition supply points, one of which had more than 4,000 rocket-propelled grenades, along with other weapons and ammunition, in its inventory. One Army explosive ordnance disposal expert predicted that, using normal procedures, it would take seventeen years to get rid of the conventional weapons amassed by Saddam Hussein.

Another big surprise in Iraq is how “rotten” Iraq was by the spring of 2003. We knew that Saddam Hussein’s military had been downgraded by years of sanctions; that is why we were confident the bulk of the Iraqi army would not put up much of a fight. What was a surprise was how thoroughly those decades of corruption and ineptitude on the part of Saddam Hussein and his cronies, and the years of economic sanctions against Iraq had hollowed out the country’s infrastructure. Although Iraq’s public infrastructure was not a target for coalition airpower, when coalition forces liberated Iraq, they found that the country’s public utilities essentially were lashed together by baling wire and chewing gum.

And of course, the economy of Iraq is a mess. It was dilapidated to begin with. But the disruption of war and the disbanding of the Iraqi army brought the combined rate of underemployment and unemployment, according to one intelligence officer, to at least 60 percent and perhaps as high as 80 percent.

As with Afghanistan, however, the most pressing concern in Iraq will be security. Iraq has become the front line for the jihadists in their war against the West and moderate Islam. And it will remain a combat zone until the jihadists find their situation untenable. Part of that battle will be fought by us, part by the de-Ba’athifized Iraqi police and army, and part by our reconstruction efforts that need to have as their objective providing full employment for the Iraqi people.

While we expect American forces to be deployed in Iraq for the next two decades, it will be an ever-shrinking number of troops. Indeed, by the spring of 2004, our military presence in Iraq already had been reduced from seventeen brigades to fourteen brigades. These numbers will continue to fall until we have deployed as few as three or four brigades, with a strong contingent of U.S. aircraft deployed in air bases near Baghdad and in southern Iraq.

Some critics of U.S. policy chide the Bush administration for “going it alone” in Iraq, for being “unilateral.” The solution for all of Iraq’s problems, they assert, is to “internationalize” the security and reconstruction effort. The fact is the effort already is internationalized and was from the beginning. As of February 2004, there were approximately 28,000 troops–roughly the equivalent of two U.S. Army divisions or six U.S. Army brigades–drawn from more than thirty countries in Iraq. Beyond their numbers, the soldiers of the multinational force are professionals, proud of their work, and respected by our own troops. And they have staying power. For example, the Dutch contingent arrived in Iraq equipped with mortars, heavy machine guns, and armored vehicles–in other words, ready for a fight. This is a positive contrast to the 200 lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers under UN command who, in 1995, were unable to defend the Bosnian town of Srebrenica against a Serbian assault–and to prevent the resulting massacre of 7,500 Muslim men and boys.

After dozens of UN employees were killed in a truck bomb attack on the organization’s headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003, the first reaction of the UN and other international aid organizations was to quit Iraq. Only now are they starting to talk about returning, and they have sent an exploratory team to Iraq to consider the future deployment of UN teams specifically to help with the Iraqi election process. In contrast, when the soldiers of our coalition partners Italy, Poland, and Spain were killed in Iraq, their respective governments did not retreat. It makes no sense to cede control of Iraq’s security and reconstruction to the UN, an organization that already has a bad track record of doing nothing while people are massacred–as in the Balkans, among other hot spots–and that retreated in the face of violence in Iraq, rather than continue to trust the already deployed international force that has the courage necessary to win.

As of February 2004, there were up to 200,000 trained Iraqi security forces with a target number of 300,000, and probably more dependent upon the jihadist insurgency, by the end of 2004. These security forces are composed of the Army, Border Patrol, Police, Facility Protections Services, and Civil Defense forces. We agree that these numbers should be increased as scheduled to 300,000. This is a challenge, because many of these units will receive their final training “on the job,” and because special care must be taken to ensure that Ba’athist diehards and radical Islamists do not infiltrate their ranks. Aggressive tactics–hunting down diehard antigovernment fighters, uncovering their caches of money and weapons, and denying them other sources of support–are what will keep the Ba’athists and jihadists off-balance. Our own troops can be more aggressive militarily if Iraqi forces are doing the internal security and police work as well as developing intelligence sources–tasks for which the Iraqis are better suited than are we, knowing as they do the people and the culture in ways that we can never hope to rival.

The Iraqi army and newly formed Iraqi border police need to be large enough to shut down Iraq’s borders to the Ba’athists, the jihadists, and those who supply them with manpower and money. On some of Iraq’s borders, the number of jihadists slipping across is relatively small. Our sources tell us that along Iraq’s long border with Saudi Arabia perhaps only two or three a night, sometimes as many as five, come across (although in one incident, seventy-five jihadists were intercepted and killed). Once across, however, they can be hard to trace, because their contacts provide them with forged Iraqi identity papers. Iraqi soldiers and police officers could identify them as foreigners by their accents and methods of speech, but coalition troops are unlikely to note the differences. Even if the number of incoming jihadists is only a trickle, it still amounts to 60 to 150 fighters a month coming in from across the Saudi border alone, and adding a hundred terrorists a month to the already volatile situation in Iraq can mean a lot of trouble. But it shouldn’t–because we have the technology to track down those trying to get into Iraq. We could significantly improve the surveillance of the border areas with high-technology observation equipment. Deploying such technology as the Global Hawk, the latest word in long-endurance, high-flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), can help prevent troublemakers from Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from getting into Iraq.

We must also make the most of our efforts to restore “normal life” in Iraq, creating the conditions in which children can walk safely to school, electricity is reliable, and fresh, drinkable water comes out of every opened tap. Although we are making unheralded strides and achieving everyday victories in the restoration of public education and public services, that is only part of the job. The physical infrastructure of Iraq must be restored so that commerce can thrive. The big victory, however, will come when a democratic civil life–what Americans would consider “normal”–takes root and blooms in Iraq. When the Iraqis gain a stake in their own government through an electoral process that is stable and repeatable (they must avoid the “One Man-One Vote-One Time” trap), and when responsibility for public services, such as water and schools, lies with local authorities, our job in the country will be done. Iraq then will be ready to care for itself.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of Iraqi civic renewal is the sudden appearance of more than 150 newspapers and magazines in the country since its liberation–though as we will discuss later, it is hugely important that the United States do a much better job of promoting the expansion of growth of news media that can broadcast democratic values. The media is wild and free in Iraq now, but that does not mean it cannot only deliver bazaar gossip and rumor and not help the Iraqis become a more informed citizenry.

The people of Iraq are about to be granted political decision-making power of a sort that no living Iraqi has ever known, and we do not underestimate the difficulties of building a lasting democracy and durable economy in Iraq. Iraq needs our support to guarantee the three S’s: security, services, and salaries. As you might expect, these are interrelated tasks. Our military forces–with their presence, firepower, operations, and, most especially, training of Iraqi forces–can buttress the Iraqis’ efforts to secure their country’s infrastructure against acts of sabotage and other disruptions. As soon as the efficient delivery services–water, electricity, transportation, broadcasting–become commonplace through the work of the foreign corporations that are rebuilding and improving Iraq’s infrastructure with job creation, there will be fewer grounds for political disaffection and greater cause for economic confidence. Given the county’s large oil deposits, as soon as the oil production system has been restored and can be protected against sabotage, wealth will flow into the government’s coffers that can be used to make even more improvements in Iraq’s public services, which in turn will spur even more economic activity, especially by the Iraqi businesses, large and small, that are springing up all over that country. In short, a sound Iraqi economy and thus a stable Iraqi social and civic life are very achievable goals.

There is a lot the United States and other nations can do to deliver jobs, an infrastructure that works, and public safety, and so strengthen the prospects for the rise of a stable, democratic Iraq. Just as important, however, there is one thing we cannot do: withdraw precipitately from Iraq. Having been on the scene, we know what it will take–and we know how much our work is valued. In September 2003, we traveled to the Persian Gulf for a weeklong Defense Department-sponsored trip. We spent much of the time in Iraq. Everywhere–everywhere–we went we encountered Iraqis who told us quite plainly how happy they were that the United States had overthrown Saddam Hussein. Yes, they were not happy about the lack of public services and the dearth of jobs, but they welcomed the opportunity to develop a democratic civil society. Repeatedly, the conversations would end with the Iraqi to whom we were speaking saying, “Thank you, America, for liberating us.” We know from reading the polls, and from firsthand experience, that the Iraqi people want us to stay; and stay we should until the situation is secure. It is imperative that we accelerate the reconstruction dollars into the country. Unfortunately, we are using peacetime rules for the contractor evaluations in a wartime situation. This is causing undue delay and should be rectified immediately.

On a broader strategic scale, a rapid withdrawal of American forces before Iraq is secure and stable would only underline our enemies’ canard that the United States does not have the stomach for anything resembling a protracted struggle and undermine our credibility as an ally to those regimes in the region and around the world that might seek our assistance to repel radical Islamists’ attempts to overthrown them.

Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney retired from the U.S. Air Force as assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force and director for the Defense Performance Review. Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely retired from the U.S. Army as deputy commanding general, Pacific, and is the senior military analyst for FOX News Channel.


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