- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Though a vote on the “bipartisan” Iraq resolution sponsored by Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican, was stalled over partisan questions of procedure, the debate did not end. What the Senate is trying to do remains confused and out of sync with the nature of the war.

The Warner resolution states “the Senate believes a failed state in Iraq would present a threat to regional and world peace, and the long-term security interests of the United States are best served by an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself, and serve as an ally in the war against extremists.” This kind of conclusion is within the Senate’s purview, but since it is an endorsement of the Bush administration position, it does not constitute any change.

The resolution is not about strategy. It is a controversial attempt by senators to dictate military operations on the ground. This is not the ancient Roman Senate, whose members took the field and commanded the armies the Republic raised. And the resolution’s assessment of the war shows their lack of expertise.

The political motive for this resolution is that the American public has grown impatient with an insurgency that fills the media daily with images of car bombs killing scores of innocent civilians. The White House has done a very poor job educating the public and Congress about this kind of conflict, allowing an unwarranted defeatism to set the mood.

The Warner resolution cites “a deteriorating and ever-widening problem of sectarian and intra-sectarian violence… between some Sunni and Shia Muslims.” This is low-level strife waged by terrorists and death squads. There is no Sunni Army of Anbar marching against a Shi’ite Army of the Euphrates to settle the war in an Iraqi version of Gettysburg. Indeed, according to the latest data from the Brookings Institution, civilian deaths still run ahead of combat deaths among U.S. and Iraqi security forces by 20-1. The insurgents are too weak to wage real war for control of the country. They are not winning; they are barely even fighting.

An insurgency that does not grow beyond terrorism cannot win against a determined government that can deploy far more resources. The great theorist on insurgent warfare was Mao Tse-tung, who won the Chinese civil war after more than 20 years.

Mao’s strategy moves through three phases. The first is the mobilization of a core base of support and acts of terrorism to intimidate the civilian population. Then, as recruitment expands, the insurgency can escalate to guerrilla warfare, hitting government targets and learning conventional warfare tactics. Mao considered this the stalemate or equilibrium phase; it could last a very long time. If the insurgents were to prevail, they would have to expand into a third phase, field a regular army that could take the “strategic offensive” and defeat the government in battle.

The task of counterinsurgency is to prevent the insurgents from progressing along this arc from terrorist cells into a field army, and that is being done. The Warner resolution defines “the plan” as merely the troop reinforcement. It does not mention their use to clear and hold Baghdad. This is the way to break the insurgency, for as Fidel Castro noted after urban uprisings were wiped out across Latin America in an earlier epoch, cities are “the graveyard of the revolutionary.”

In Iraq, the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda are still in Phase One. Shi’ite radicals are the main menace in Iraq, having infiltrated the government and deployed militia units. To make the jump from terrorism to a force capable of contesting for control of the state almost always requires the support of a foreign government, as only governments can muster the resources needed for major combat. Radical Shi’ites in Iraq have the support of Iran. Indeed, the real issue in Iraq is not about combating terrorism. It is about containing the expanding ambitions of Tehran, which is using insurgents like the Mahdi Army in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon to project its power, while it works on a nuclear program and long-range missiles.

President Bush therefore is turning up the pressure on Iran, stating in an NPR radio interview Jan. 29, “If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly.” So concerned about Iranian aggression are the Arab states of the region that they were willing to give Israel a free hand to destroy Hezbollah in southern Lebanon last summer. And Saudi Arabia is acting to lower the world price of oil to undercut Tehran’s economic base.

But the Warner resolution does not mention Iran. It does say “the military part of this strategy should focus on maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq, denying international terrorists a safe haven, conducting counterterrorism operations, promoting regional stability.”

None of these goals can be met without confronting Tehran with American power. The political rush to withdraw U.S. troops from the fight will hand weak enemies victories they have not earned but will exploit to our detriment.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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