The elimination of al-Qaeda commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi presents an opportunity that should not be missed: Now is the time to take a fresh look at America’s goals in Iraq.
The White House’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” was written nineteen months ago. In the “medium term,” it looks forward to an Iraq that provides “an inspiring example to reformers in the region.” We’re not there yet. In the “longer term,” Iraq is to become a nation that proves “the fruits of democratic governance,” and serves as “an engine for regional economic growth.” At this point, most Americans would probably settle for less.
That does not imply that most Americans are ready to accept defeat in Iraq, which is what more than a few prominent politicians (mostly Democrats) are advocating – no matter how they spin it (e.g. “redeployment”) or whom they blame (Bush, naturally). Defeat at the hands of Militant Islamist terrorists and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s forces would be disastrous.
The consequences would unfold over decades. The perception – and perhaps the reality – would be that the U.S. military, despite its technological prowess and the courage of its troops, is no match for enemies armed with cell phones and garage door openers (used to set off Improvised Explosive Devices), butcher knives and video cameras.
The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq also contends that “neither terrorists, Saddamists nor rejectionists are able to prevent Iraq’s political and economic progress.” Unfortunately, that is incorrect — both grammatically and strategically. The experience of the past three years has demonstrated that as long as terrorist commanders can produce corpses day after day and live to tell the tale, no achievements in non-military realms will be seen as meaningful or durable – not by most Iraqis and not by most Americans.
Now is the time to prioritize: The primary goal should be suppression of the forces once led by Zarqawi and Saddam, particularly, in and around Iraq’s capital.
Achieving that goal is the necessary pre-condition for all our other objectives. It is true that we can’t win only militarily. But until we demonstrate that we won’t be defeated militarily, Iraq’s economic and political development will be fragile at best.
My Scripps column fleshing out these ideas is here .