EDITOR’S NOTE: In a energetic lunchtime address and Q&A Monday in Cleveland, President Bush spoke about progress in Iraq and a “strategy for victory” there.
To mark the three-year anniversary this week of the Coalition going into Iraq, National Review Online gathered a group of experts for their read of how things are going. We asked, broadly: “What do you consider the most important points to keep in mind when considering Iraq three years after the Coalition invasion?” Here’s what they had to say.
There are ten things to remember about Iraq three years after the invasion:
1) In spite of the violence, Iraqis are constructing one of the few democracies in the Middle East.
2) Withdrawing prematurely would leave a vacuum for al Qaeda, Iran, or Syria to fill, destabilizing the entire region.
3) Civil war will be a self-fulfilling prophecy if we buy into the idea, and give up.
4) We’re fighting pure evil in Iraq. How many Iraqi women and children have al Qaeda/the insurgents slaughtered?
5) The quickest way to end a war is to lose it; losing would dishonor all those who served–or are serving–in Iraq.
6) Premature withdrawal will be seen as a historic victory for terrorism, encouraging even more bloodshed across the globe.
7) Our allies/friends around the world–as well as our enemies–are watching the strength/durability of our commitment in Iraq.
8) Iraq isn’t Vietnam–or any other war. It’s unique.
9) No terrorist attacks here since 9/11. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
10) Finally, what may have started as a war of choice in now a war of necessity–for the reasons listed above.
–Peter Brookes is senior fellow for national-security affairs and director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation. He is author of A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.
‐Confounding the expectations of cynics and terrorists, the majority Shia community has, at least until the Samarra mosque desecration, shown astonishing restraint and faith in a democratic future, despite months of murderous attacks by Sunni klansmen, Baathist diehards, and their al Qaeda Sunni allies. Likewise, Iraq’s Kurdish leaders have put the future of a free Iraq before their own sectional interests.
‐Millions more Americans now understand the untrustworthiness and dishonesty of the mainstream media–especially the half a million troops who have served in Iraq and who have seen their work go unreported or be misrepresented. (You can be sure that you are getting less than half the picture unless you read milblogs and Iraqi blogs and talk to troops who have come back. When was the last time you read about what the Australians or Poles are doing in Iraq? Have you ever heard a network anchor put our casualties in the contexts of other wars, or even auto accident rates in the U.S.?)
‐Nevertheless the failure of the Administration to get pictures of the work Coalition forces do–from building sewage systems to training Iraqi forces–onto American national and local TV is a strategic defeat, on a par with the occupation government’s failure to maintain order after Saddam’s overthrow. The fact that millions of Americans wrongly believe that the 100,000 plus GIs in Iraq have achieved nothing there and are under constant attack by a hostile population could force the U.S. government into a premature withdrawal.
‐It’s hard to know what’s really going on in Iraq–partly because of the localized nature of the war, partly because the threat of kidnap restricts the movement of white reporters, but mostly because the press corps reports only attacks and death tolls. However, my own visits have cured me of doubts about whether Iraqi freedom is worth the sacrifices of our troops. And when you talk to the some of the thousands of Iraqis who are risking their lives for a new Iraq (just ask them what they think of the “troops out” movement), it’s clear that this is as noble a cause as any in our history.
‐American successes in combat and in the battle for hearts and minds continue to be undermined by a Pentagon that still doesn’t understand the importance of perception and prestige in the Middle East and the Global War on Terror. If we seem to be fearful because of domestic politics, or because our military doctrines emphasize “force protection” over victory, then our enemies will grow stronger, bolder, and more popular. That is why after three years, the stakes in Iraq are higher than ever. Though it is impossible for the insurgents to restore Saddam’s Sunni tyranny in Iraq, we could still suffer a self-inflicted defeat that would herald the beginning of the end of America’s global hegemony.
It’s bad enough that the 30 allied countries who sent troops to Iraq (so much for “going it alone”) found themselves out of pocket, unrecognized by the American public, deprived of a fair share of reconstruction contracts, and in the case of Denmark, actively betrayed by us during the cartoon affair. If we abandon Iraq to civil war and large-scale intervention by neighboring states, the Vietnam/Beirut theory, beloved of Osama and Milosevic (Americans are cowards who cut and run after a relative handful of deaths), will be seen to be true. It will be our last betrayal of friends and allies for a long time, because no-one will trust us again.
M. Zuhdi Jasser
After three years, our losses and frustrations serve as proof of how sorely we were needed in Iraq. Iraq has become an epicenter of Islamist terror. But al Qaeda’s fear of a free Iraq is the greatest sign that our mission is on target. Militant Islamists are now on the run in Iraq.
The conflict between political and pluralistic Islam is a central ideological war from which we should never run. If we change the political and economic environment in the Middle East, we will change the associated religious pathology. However, history teaches that after generations of oppression, a national transformation from a corrupt system into one of free markets and virtues does not happen overnight.
Under coercion people were nothing but slaves to their ruling thugs and theocrats. End the coercion, and begin the long, semi-chaotic process of liberating generations of a shackled Muslim mind.
Our resolve should remain indefinite. Iraq’s liberators will be remembered not only for doing what Iraqis could never have done alone, but also for beginning to wrest the faith of Islam away from the theocrats. Iraq is only the first step of a long journey for Muslims and Arabs as they renew their love of liberty, pluralism, and personal integrity–free of coercion.
The president’s speech Monday was fine as far as it goes, and the Tal Afar story is a great one (the public should have heard about it long since–ahem). Unfortunately, the speech doesn’t go far enough, because yet again it was not about the war on terror, but about the defensive battle we are fighting in Iraq. The actual war involves Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, at a minimum, with Pakistan floating in the punch bowl.
The more interesting document is the text of the questions and answers. President Bush has Iran on his mind, as you can tell from the fact that he raised it gratuitously while responding to an Iraq question, then kind of apologized for raising it, then went back to it again. He said that we’re looking for a diplomatic solution, which is the party line. Later on, someone asked him about the difference between the Iraq threat and the Iran threat, and he sounded like an assistant secretary of State instead of a president. He said that we had all those U.N. resolutions before we attacked Saddam, and we’re just starting down that road with Iran.
No talk of democratic revolution. No mention that Iran is the leading sponsor of terrorism. No encouragement for the Iranian people. Instead, a cheerful reference to talks between our ambassador to Iraq and the Iranians, as if diplomacy could end a war that Iran has been waging against us for 27 years.
Mackubin Thomas Owens
As we look at the situation in Iraq three years after the U.S. invasion, it might be useful to consider what things might look like if we hadn’t invaded. It is not altogether certain that things would be better than they are today. Indeed, they would probably be far worse.
First and foremost, Saddam would still be in power, and we should not underestimate his ability to have caused a great deal of mischief. Human-rights violations would continue. He would be lionized by other despots for his ability to thumb his nose at the international system. By now, the real “coalition of the bribed,” the members of the U.N. Security Council that Saddam was paying off, would in all likelihood have permitted the sanctions regime that boxed Saddam in to wither away. Having rattled our swords but not followed through, U.S. credibility would be at its nadir.
Free of sanctions, Saddam would no doubt now be in the process of reconstituting his chemical and nuclear-weapons programs. The contacts between the Iraqi intelligence service and groups like al Qaeda, identified by the Senate Intelligence Committee and others, would now no doubt be more formalized.
Having seen us blink in the case of Iraq, countries such as Pakistan would be less likely to help us in our attempt to destroy al Qaeda. There’s no guarantee that things would be better in Afghanistan either. The synergy arising from our efforts in both places would be lost.
Of course, critics of the war, especially Democrats, go out of their way to praise the ouster of Saddam but accuse the Bush administration of “dangerous incompetence” in the words of the most recent Democratic talking points. I’m in the process of reviewing Cobra II by Michael Gordon and Mick Trainor for National Review, which makes it abundantly clear that there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the execution of the war. But as I compare some of the blunders in Iraq with far more egregious lapses in earlier wars, I wonder if we could ever have won World War II with today’s press. I rather doubt it.
–Mackubin Thomas Owens is an associate dean of academics and a professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. He is writing a history of U.S. civil-military relations.
Since the fall of Saddam’s regime, there have been both triumphs and setbacks for those attempting to establish a free society in Iraq. The setbacks have been tactical and not strategic in nature. For instance, after the Coalition recognized the mistakes in structuring the Iraqi army, the force was quickly restructured to fight the insurgency. There are now almost 50 Iraqi battalions in the lead fighting the insurgency, with another 80 battalions in supporting roles. The Iraqi security forces have yet to meet their full potential.
The political process, while painfully slow, has produced results. The Iraqi people braved the threats and acts of violence three separate times during 2005, and voted in numbers that should shame the citizens of established Western democracies.
Iraq is a central front in the War on Terror, as Zawahiri himself has stated. Al Qaeda has chosen to engage the U.S. in Iraq, and by doing so has alienated a large percentage of their purported supporters–the Sunnis–due to the indiscriminate use of violence. This is a stunning ideological victory which has essentially been ignored.
Finally, we must not forget the heroism and professionalism of our military and civilians serving in Iraq. They have proven to be committed warriors with the ability to adapt to the rigorous demands of fighting a counterinsurgency, and the knowledge gained on the battlefield will shape the way we approach future conflicts.
–Bill Roggio is an independent civilian military blogger. He served in the Army from 1991 to 1995, and now writes for his blog The Fourth Rail. He blogged from Iraq at threatswatch.org.
Success is evident: Iraqis can choose from dozens of television and radio channels, and scores of newspapers. Elections, political debate, and compromise are the norm. When chaos reigns, refugees flee. Why then have more than a million Iraqis returned to their country since liberation? Insurgency and terrorism are tragic. They were once to be found in Peru and Turkey as well. There, we did not undermine democracy with calls to strike deals with terrorists. Too many critics of President Bush treat Iraq as an excuse to grind political axes which have little or anything to do with Iraq. This is unfair to Iraqis.
Three years on, it is clear that success is not limited to Iraq. In 2005, Syria witnessed its two freest elections in a half century. How ironic, then, that only expatriate Iraqis could participate. While Arab regimes once sought to channel public anger to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Arab intellectuals and activists now debate dissent, reform, and democracy: Does top-down democratization have merits? The bottom-up approach? How to differentiate between NGOs and GONGOs (government-operated NGOs)? How best to support independent labor unions?
While bloggers may try to offer informed comment without ever stepping foot in Iraq, and journalists may focus on the daily blood, the greatest legacy of Iraq’s liberation may be the new Middle Eastern discourse. Bush deserves credit for providing a catalyst. But it is the Iraqi people, Lebanese journalists, Egyptian dissidents, Tunisian bloggers, and many other courageous citizens who are alone responsible for creating a new, more democratic order.
–Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is editor of The Middle East Quarterly. He has spent 20 months in Iraq, all but three of them outside the U.S. security zone.
Joseph Morrison Skelly
Three years after the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, three essential achievements merit our attention. First, the United States has scored significant strategic gains in the Global War on Terror. The Hussein regime, a fundamental threat to American interests and Middle Eastern stability, has been deposed. President Bush’s “forward strategy of freedom” has been vindicated. Our geostrategic options are greater, while those of our adversaries are foreclosed. The security of the United States and its allies, always the war’s first priority, has been enhanced.
Second, at the operational level, Coalition and Iraqi forces are now implementing an effective approach to the terrorist insurgency, defined as “clear, hold, build.” On Monday President Bush highlighted its successful application by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar. The Sunni mayor of Tal Afar concurs: “The mission they have accomplished … stands among the finest military feats to date in Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
Finally, the gradual spread of constitutional democracy, a hallmark of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, remains an essential component of the War on Terror. Its implementation, we know, must incorporate non-negotiable elements such as the rule of law and minority rights, but its inexorable success in Iraq will not only drain support for terrorists there, but will also serve as a vital component of the war of ideas in the greater Middle East.
–Joseph Morrison Skelly, a college professor in New York City, is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.