June 21, 2005

A Coward's Way Out

Some Democrats and a few fair-weather Republicans (Walter “Freedom Fries” Jones, etc) are calling on President Bush and the Pentagon to set a withdrawal date for removing our forces from Iraq, thus fulfilling the Left's goal of losing the Iraqi war to terrorists.

While I find myself fighting (and occasionally losing) the urge to declare the American Left as al Qaeda allies, the setting of a timetable in Iraq would precisely mean that we concede the war to the insurgency. Too many good men and women, Iraqi and coalition partners, have died to allow this to happen.

As Stephen Green of Vodkapundit correctly noted:

…wars are generally won in one of two ways:
  1. By completely eliminating the enemy's ability to resist.
  2. By convincing the enemy that he's beaten.
For brevity's sake, we'll call these two routes "Means" and "Will." In the first option, the enemy's means of fighting are taken away from him. In the second, it's his will to fight that you take away.
He went on to say that eliminating the enemy ability to fight “just ain't gonna happen,” and that our other option, by default is to convince the enemy that he is beaten. He states further:

I'm not certain how you take the Will away from people who take their inspiration from God – but I'm pretty sure that, eventually, killing enough of them in large enough numbers would do the trick. Do we have enough soldiers on the ground to do the job? Do we, as a people, have the political will? Will the Iraqi forces evolve quickly enough to help us in this vital task? Can all this be done without completely alienating the Iraqi people?
While I generally agree with Mr. Green up to this point, I'd like to think (only history will tell, and it might prove both of us wrong) that his assessment might be a little off in his characterization of the insurgency we face in Iraq. While there is certainly a Jihadi element to the insurgency movement, it is important to recognize that there are two parts to the insurgency mix, and each has radically different goals. We may very well be able to remove the insurgents means to fight, as well as their will.

The 72 raisin-chasing Jihadists are out to kill infidels, and most are more than willing to take out Iraqi civilians along the way; many even conclude that Shias, Kurds, and even some Sunnis are infidels. Domestic Sunni insurgents, however, are generally more secular in their demands; they had a good life under fellow Sunni Saddam Hussein, and are fighting for their secular lifestyle as much as they are for their religion.

Iraqi Sunnis are at least as motivated by alms as Allah, and as long as they think their best option is an insurgency, they'll continue to fight. The inclusion and growing support of Sunnis within the Iraqi government will slowly but surely become the low-hanging fruit of disaffected Sunnis, and should the proposed amnesty deal go into effect, we could see many Sunni elements of the insurgency go quiet virtually overnight. We saw this happen with the Shia insurgency of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and there is little reason to doubt that the same carrot-and-stick appraoch might work for a similar horse.

When—and if—Iraqi Sunnis decide to try the diplomatic route, it would leave the largely foreign forces of al Qaeda in Iraq in a difficult position.

al Qaeda has already blown any foreseeable chances it had of turning this into a Muslim vs. European Infidel war when it began purposefully targeting Iraqis. They have, in effect, driven the majority of the population (Shias and Kurds) toward the uncertain future of an Iraqi democracy and away from the murderous certainty of militant Sunni radicalism. If the Iraqi government can co-opt the majority of Sunni insurgents by giving them a role in the political future of Iraq, they may place the remaining Sunni insurgents and their al Qaeda allies in a position where their logistical supply lines are sufficiently compromised as to reduce their ability to fight an insurgency. This is hardly assured, but seems to be within the realm of possibility.

Suicide bombers don't tend to make return trips, and if Iraqi Sunnis remove themselves from the equation, the mostly foreign fighters of al Qaeda will stand out like a sore thumb, turning them from the hunters into the hunted. Insurgencies only tend to work if they have a significant percentage of the population supporting them. If the Sunnis can content themselves within the political process, the “means” approach might work, at least, “enough.”

By “enough,” I'm referring to the tendency of “means” to affect “will,” and vice versa. A physically diminished force often encounters moral problems, and if the Sunnis insurgents largely abandon their al Qaeda allies, the al Qaeda recruiters might find it increasingly difficult to find people willing to join their cause. As Mr. Green correctly noted in the quote above:

I'm not certain how you take the Will away from people who take their inspiration from God – but I'm pretty sure that, eventually, killing enough of them in large enough numbers would do the trick.

If the Sunnis can be made to feel that the political solution is their best option, then what constitutes “killing enough” drops significantly.

Regardless of whether the insurgency dies by “means” or “will,” it is imperative that we stay there to ensure that the death of the insurgency is the end result. We have a moral obligation to finish what we started when we invaded Iraq, and that includes not leaving until the job is done. That job entails us defeating the insurgency and setting up an environment in which Iraqi democracy has a chance to thrive.

Because of this, setting an arbitrary date that allows the insurgency to go into hibernation until after we've left is precisely the wrong move to take. This would only create a situation where we—or even worse, the United Nations—would have to go back in later to re-fight a war we should have finished in the first place.

Setting a withdrawal date is exactly the wrong message to send to the insurgency, giving them hope where there should be none. The 25 million people of Iraq deserve better, and it is our responsibility to finish what we started. Anything else is a coward's way out.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 21, 2005 12:30 AM