- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The “surge” in Iraq, and the counterinsurgency strategy that the increase in forces was designed to support, have made far more gains in far less time than most who are actually familiar with the situation here ever expected. A large part of the reason for this is the people of Iraq, who have in many different ways displayed a level of bravery that we can only hope Americans, if put into the same situation, would ever dream of showing.

Rather than taking the terrorist presence in their country lying down, Iraqis in many locations have shown amazing courage, not only by providing an ever-increasing amount of information on insurgent activity to coalition forces, but also by working to rebuild what the insurgents have destroyed, as well as by putting their lives on the line to drive terrorists out of their own villages. They do this despite the fact that they do not know whether they will wake up the next day to find that the coalition — currently their best source of protection — has succumbed to the calls from home (which are heard here by civilians and terrorists alike) to leave Iraq, and has abandoned them.

In April and May of this year, and again from the beginning of August through the present, I have been embedded in some of the most kinetic combat zones in Iraq, observing Gen. David Petraeus’s strategy from the ground level in several different locations, and have seen clear evidence of the strategy’s effects on the situation there.

I have personally observed clinics in which coalition medics and doctors provided Iraqi villagers with a level of care that has long been unheard of in this country. I have toured reconstruction sites being worked on by Iraqi contractors, and have ridden along in gun trucks assigned to protect these men as they rebuild their own country, while terrorists try to kill them and destroy any and all improvements they have managed to provide for their countrymen.

I have sat in on meetings (both open and clandestine) with sheikhs and tribal leaders who simply want a guarantee of the coalition’s support of their attempt to achieve better, more secure lives — despite the fact that being seen consorting with the Americans puts a price on each of these leaders’ heads. Likewise, I have heard the concern voiced — more times than I can even count — that the coalition, which currently remains the sole source of stability and security in this country, will give in to the cries from home to abandon the Iraqi people to death, and will finally do so.

I have participated in countless combat operations driven solely by intelligence provided by Iraqi citizens who knew of terrorists in the area and called the Americans to let them know; likewise, I, along with the soldiers whom I have covered, have had my life saved by tips from Iraqi citizens about IEDs and ambushes put into place to kill us. Much more of this must happen if Iraq is even to have a chance at a brighter future — but at this point, though, this is still a very broken and unstable country. Yet, progress is inarguably being made.

What remains is a very long and difficult struggle, and it is very likely that the coalition’s goals — and its definition of “victory” — will have to be revisited, perhaps more than once. Successful and stable nation-building is different from and more difficult than simply waging a counterinsurgency (a long and difficult undertaking of its own). Amidst the real but exceedingly fragile gains made by the “surge” and its accompanying strategy, there are no guarantees about long-term stability and effectiveness; at this time, the coalition’s presence is still the only glue holding an exceedingly fragile country together.

A successful counterinsurgency is one thing, with a timeline which is measured not in months, but in years. However, to wage a successful counterinsurgency and then to build a stable, autonomous and secure state, which we can leave behind without risking its imminent collapse, is another matter altogether. It is not guaranteed at all — let alone feasible in the matter of mere months.

However, between the real progress being made and the disastrous consequences (for America’s national security and reputation, as well as for the Iraqi people) of abandoning this country to terrorists, the way forward should be clear: Continue to trust the man whose position and plan the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed in January, and whose strategy has shown the best results so far in Iraq. Failing to do so would constitute breaking faith with the Iraqi people, to whom we once presented ourselves as liberators, and to whom we now serve as the one and only chance at a better life — if not at life itself.

Jeff Emanuel, a special operations veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is a columnist and director of the conservative Web log RedState.com. He is currently embedded with the military on the front lines in Iraq.

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