On Iraq: Listen carefully to General Abizaid (Walid Phares, 11/20/06, World Defense Review)

General Abizaid was asked by a panel of well informed Senators last week, how to “measure” the need to send in additional U.S. forces or to begin withdrawal from Iraq.

In short military sentences, the CENTCOM boss told them it will all depend on the ability of U.S. forces to train, support and direct Iraqi units in their confrontation with the terrorists. The Senators didn’t seem the get Abizaid’s very accurate point. Both Republican and Democrat legislators wanted a quantitative answer:

“How many additional troops do you need so that we can pull out lots of troops after,” they repetitively asked with hints at past and future electoral promises to end the conflict.

Sticking with his analysis, Abizaid (who speaks the language of the region and has studied its ideologies) said the question is not to bring in more troops to Iraq, but to have Iraqi forces begin to win their war. This was the first key in the whole hearing. The man was trying to tell the Senators that more important than bringing in additional 20,000 Marines and soldiers, was to train an additional 50,000 Iraqi troops.

Indeed, the ultimate objective in this war (at least the counter-terrorist part of it) is to help the Iraqis help themselves. Surely with half a million boots on the ground you can saturate the whole country, but from what? There is no standing army the U.S. is fighting against.

The fight is against a factory that is producing Jihadists, both external and internal. The answer is to build the counter-factory: i.e. an Iraqi military and intelligence force. And to do so, you have to allow it to fight the battle, with all the sacrifices and setbacks that come with it. U.S. forces cannot keep fighting instead of the Iraqis, and win the war for them.

Aware of this reality, General Abizaid (along with his colleagues) was trying to explain to Congress that – in the historical context of it – the war against terrorism in Iraq is one of the centers of the global conflict. Even the seasoned U.S. diplomat David Satterfield, who was also testifying on behalf of the State Department, asserted the inescapable reality: it is about the Iraqis’ political will. And in addition to the General and the diplomat, may I stress as an academic, that the matter at the end is psychological.

If Iraqi citizens “see” their army engaging the terrorists and winning, the tide will turn. It is not about how many new troops or about the statistics of death. It is between al Jazeera convincing Iraqis that the U.S. is defeated and that former Secretary of State Jim Baker (co-chair of the Iraq Study Group) is supposedly negotiating the terms of the surrender, and between al Hurra TV showing Iraqi commanders fraternizing with Shia and Sunni villagers after encounters with terrorists and sectarian militias. It boils down to this: who would the Iraqis send their sons to fight with: The Jihadists of all types or the multiethnic Army?

Without this understanding of the conflict, advocated by Abizaid, decision-makers are left with mostly political calculations: how to cut deals, how to get out, how not to suffer more losses, and how to be reelected or super-elected in 2008. General Abizaid instead recommended moves that make sense only if we can see the bigger picture:

Insert U.S. forces within Iraqi units: Reduce the presence of American (and Coalition) military in the “Jihadi zones” and instead deploy more Iraqi-American solidified forces. Call on U.S. units to strategically support Iraqis when the Jihadists are rebuilding other “Fallujahs.” Let the sons and daughters of Iraq take the fight to the terrorists, should they be Salafists or Khumeinists. This is their time to face off with their enemy (who happens to be our enemy). Let them engage and test their will and the will of the people they are protecting and liberating. Let al Jazeera and al Hurra (their media and ours) and the Iraqiya TV (Iraqi national TV) show the panache or the setback of their own forces. It is fine if we don’t take all the credit for all the battles. It is fine if the Iraqi military takes the front row for the good and the bad. Let their generals, commanders, soldiers be in the media and lash out against the Jihadists. And at the core of each unit, let’s place the best of our U.S. support. The bottom line, Iraqis needs victories in Arabic language (and also in Kurdish, Assyrian and Turkic). Audiences in Baghdad need to hear Iraqi commentators evaluating the conflict, not talking heads from New York to Los Angeles. This is not our exclusive war in Mesopotamia; this is also Iraq’s war against terror and fascism, whether our intellectual elites like it or not.

U.S. and Coalition forces should redeploy inside Iraq not away from it at this point in time. The actual need for ground, sea, and air forces should be designed by those who are waging the war in the realm of reality; not by those who are managing domestic politics at home. For lovers of debates, televised war-rooms and partisan labyrinths we suggest another arena of talents: engage the Iraqi people, politicians, youth, women, and mobilize them. Visit Iraq and meet with them or invite them to your cities, towns and campuses back at home. Be a part of the international mobilization, not the global demobilization. Strategically, large chunks of the expeditionary force should be deploying on or about the Iraqi-Iranian and Iraqi-Syrian borders. Use the weight of American might to deter the two regimes who are at real war with Iraq’s emerging democracy. Don’t let the agents of Damascus and Tehran killing the guys and gals in convoys and patrols inside urban areas. Fulfill the strategy of liberation with smarter moves instead of self-collapsing.

A uniquely sensible analysis that the neocons would do well to study.


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