- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

As Americans witness almost daily scenes of terrorist-perpetrated carnage in Iraq, it becomes apparent that, for all the good that the United States has done in ending the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and giving the Iraqi people a chance at a democratic future, we have not managed to give Iraqis something that is no less important: protection from terrorists who are determined to destroy any decent future for them. And that may prove impossible to achieve if the United States fails to rethink its tactics on the battlefield and adopt a better strategy to help the Iraqi people confront the jihadists.

Supporters of the war, ranging from Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution on the left to Thomas Donnelly of American Enterprise Institute on the right, have suggested innovative counterinsurgency strategies to take the war to the terrorists.

It is impossible to overstate the valor and heroism of our soldiers in Iraq and the importance of their mission: America cannot afford to lose this battle in the war on terrorism. Critics of the war effort attempt to make the mendacious — and demonstrably false — claims that Iraq will inevitably become a carbon copy of America’s unsuccessful effort to prevent a Communist takeover of Vietnam. But there are huge differences between the two situations. In Iraq, the fighters aligned with the terrorist insurgency number in the tens of thousands. In Vietnam, we were up against enemy forces of more than 1 million men, including hundreds of thousands of Vietcong irregulars in South Vietnam. Today, America has approximately 135,000 troops in Iraq; at the height of the conflict, by contrast, the United States had 540,000 troops in Vietnam.

Iran and Syria — where pro-jihadist regimes have taken the lead in supporting the Iraqi terrorists — are dangerous, but they are a far cry from the Soviet Union and China, international superpowers that supported the Communist rebellion in South Vietnam. In Iraq, where the United States deposed a 35-year-old Ba’athist regime that had murdered hundreds of thousands of its people, the U.S.-led military campaign has certain bona fides it lacked in Vietnam.

Still, there are lessons to be learned from Vietnam. For one, our defeat was catastrophic for the people of Southeast Asia: It was followed by the genocide that killed millions of people in Cambodia and by hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam being killed or herded into “re-education” camps. There can be no doubt that if the jihadists are successful in driving American forces out of Iraq before Iraqi security forces can take control of the country, the result would be a catastrophic defeat in the war against Islamist terror.

Mr. Pollack makes a number of solid suggestions on ways to improve U.S. tactics in Iraq. One was that the United States should make greater use of counterinsurgency plans that were used with considerable success during the latter part of the Vietnam War. Utilizing those strategies, American troops would fight and live alongside South Vietnamese soldiers in order to secure a village from the Vietcong.

In order to persuade Iraqis to risk their lives by providing information that would aid the military’s efforts to capture terrorists, it is essential that U.S. forces remain in areas where terrorists have been driven out until such time as the Iraqi people are able to assume most of the responsibility for defending themselves. Although U.S. commanders in the field (who are given wide-ranging discretion in the tactics they employ) have sporadically implemented such policies, they appear to be the exception rather than the rule. As a result, we see what has become a disturbing pattern in areas like the Sunni Triangle, and villages like Tal Afar near the Syrian border, which coalition forces are currently fighting to recapture: By leaving these areas before Iraqis are capable of securing them, we ensure that our control will only be temporary. Once U.S. troops have left the area, the insurgents emerge from hiding, and the cycle of mayhem and murder resumes.

Clearly, a new and better approach is needed in taking the war to the terrorists. The Pentagon should consider making use of counterinsurgency strategies successfully employed in Vietnam. It is essential to find a way to make it prohibitively expensive for Tehran and Damascus to continue their subversion.

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