- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

Spurred by the difficulty of defeating Iraq’s terrorist insurgency and emboldened by problems in developing a new Iraqi military, Bush administration critics express doubt whether it is really all that important to defeat the jihadists in Iraq.

On Thursday, terrorist truck bombs killed 62 people, most of them Iraqi Shi’ites, in a town 50 miles north of Baghdad. That same day, the American commander in Iraq, Army Gen. George Casey, acknowledged a setback in building an Iraqi security force. Gen. Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the number of independently operating Iraqi army battalions had fallen from three to one, due in part to exacting combat-readiness standards, and said that coalition forces do not control the Syrian border — where terrorists enter Iraq to murder and maim.

During Thursday’s hearing, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a senior Armed Services Committee Democrat, questioned the contention of Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that if al Qaeda is not defeated in Iraq, it would be emboldened to attack the United States, and that this would increase the likelihood of future September 11-style attacks on this country. Mr. Reed wondered aloud whether waging war in Iraq would help to win the larger war on terror, or would instead create a larger regional conflict and more recruits for al Qaeda.

To listen to Mr. Reed (and many other critics of the Iraq war), one might get the impression that the United States would be better off if we had just left Saddam Hussein in power, and that the way to rectify the “mistake” of overthrowing him would be to get out of Iraq as soon as possible and hope for the best.

But it would be the height of folly to think that such a cut-and-run policy would not have disastrous consequences for the United States. Jihadist hostility towards the United States existed well before Washington launched the war to depose Saddam Hussein in March 2003, as manifested in attacks such as the 1980s bombings and hostage-takings in Lebanon; the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; the 1998 Africa embassy bombings; and the October 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole. Does anyone seriously believe that to abandon Iraq to the Abu Musab Zarqawis, the bin Ladens, the disgruntled ex-Ba’athists and their supporters in Tehran and Damascus would magically persuade such people to live and let live? Common sense and experience in dealing with violent, messianic revolutionary movements in the past (Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the 1930s and 1940s come to mind) tell us that a far more likely result would be to embolden such people to increase, rather than reduce, their attacks in the wake of an American retreat.

To agree that Mr. Reed’s premise is foolish is not to say that there haven’t been mistakes in the Bush administration’s approach. Clearly, the White House and Pentagon underestimated the danger of a terrorist insurgency in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The number of U.S. troops in the country is inadequate to the task of securing Iraq’s borders against infiltration and protecting its power plants and economic infrastructure against sabotage. Most important of all, we are not providing sufficient protection to decent Iraqis who deserve to be defended from jihadists who seek to intimidate and murder them.

Success in this final area — enabling the Iraqi people to be secure in their homes and businesses, and when they travel — is going to be key to building a new and democratic Iraq. This means, as we have noted here before, developing a new counterinsurgency strategy that has worked elsewhere in the past. Writing in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, security analyst Andrew Krepinevich lays out a blueprint for a new counterinsurgency strategy. Modeled on U.S. strategies that proved successful in the latter years of the Vietnam War, it would focus less on sweeping into villages and killing insurgents (only to have the terrorists return later to take revenge against civilians once coalition forces have left), than on embedding U.S. soldiers with Iraqi units and remaining inside liberated towns in order to gain better intelligence on the enemy. This would make clear to Iraqis that the United States will be there to protect them until Iraqi forces can do so.

At the same time, it is delusional to suggest — as some self-appointed realists in Congress seem to — that we can somehow get away with abandoning the Iraqi people to the jihadists and still win the larger war.

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