Politics & Policy

What Went Right

How the U.S. began to quell the insurgency in Iraq

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the May 9th, 2005, issue

of National Review.

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.”–T. E. Lawrence

It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq.

#ad#If current trends continue, our counter-insurgent campaign in Iraq will be fit to be mentioned in the same breath as the British victory over a Communist insurgency in Malaysia in the 1950s, a textbook example of this form of war. Our counterinsurgency has gone through the same stages as that of the Brits five decades ago: confusion in the initial reaction to the insurgency, followed by a long period of adjustment, and finally the slow but steady erosion of the insurgency’s military and political base. Even as there has been a steady diet of bad news about Iraq in the media over the last year, even as some hawks have bailed on the war in despair, even as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has become everyone’s whipping boy, the U.S. military has been regaining the strategic upper hand.

This doesn’t mean the war couldn’t still go wrong. “It’s not over,” says a top officer in Iraq. A key assassination, continued Sunni rejectionism, an inter-sectarian explosion, or something unforeseen–all could still derail us in Iraq. Nor does it mean that our effort is perfect. “I give us a B minus,” says an administration official, a tough grader who is nonetheless an optimist. But it does mean that as of mid-April 2005 we are winning, just as surely as we were losing in the darkest days of the dual radical-Shia and radical-Sunni uprisings a year ago.

The basic approach of the Pentagon to the insurgency was right from the beginning. “The strategy was always political as well as military,” says a Pentagon official. A counterinsurgency is never about simply killing enemy fighters the way it is–or at least seems–on a conventional battlefield. Insurgents have an endless capacity to replicate themselves, unless political conditions are created that drain them of support. If top policymakers always knew that intellectually, we have had to stumble our way to finding the correct ways to act on the insight.

Based on conversations with administration officials and key combatant commanders, this is the story of how, two years after the fall of Saddam, the U.S. has begun to win the war for Iraq . . .

YOU CAN READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE IN THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE DIGITAL VERSION OF NATIONAL REVIEW. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A SUBSCRIPTION TO NR DIGITAL OR NATIONAL REVIEW, YOU CAN SIGN UP FOR A SUBSCRIPTION TO NATIONAL REVIEW here OR NATIONAL REVIEW DIGITAL here (a subscription to NR includes Digital access).

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

White House

For Democrats, the Party’s Over

If the Democrats are really tempted by impeachment, bring it on. Since the day after the 2016 election they have been threatening this, placing their chips on the Russian-collusion fantasy and then on the phantasmagoric charade of obstruction of justice. The attorney general accurately gave the ingredients of the ... Read More
Elections

The 24 Democrats

Every presidential primary ends with one winner and a lot of losers. Some might argue that one or two once-little-known candidates who overperform low expectations get to enjoy a form of moral victory. (Ben Carson and Rick Perry might be happy how the 2016 cycle ended, with both taking roles in Trump’s cabinet. ... Read More