Sunday, August 28

A WINNABLE STRATEGY IN IRAQ?

No surprise here, but the thoughtful David Brooks of the "New York Times" (registration required) provides quite a contrast in style and substance to his acerbic counterpart, Frank Rich, in this morning's edition.

Unlike Rich, who offered no prescriptions for winning in Iraq, Brooks points to what he thinks may be a productive strategy for defeating the insurgents, but one which would undoubtedly be at loggerheads with what he terms "the key Rumsfeldian notions about how the U.S. military should operate in the 21st century."

Brooks cites a book by West Point graduate Andrew Krepinevich and a Krepinevich-authored essay published in the current edition of "Foreign Affairs," both of which postulate, according to Brooks, that effective counterinsurgency requires of the U.S. military that it not "go off on search and destroy missions trying to kill insurgents," but rather that it "set up safe havens" to protect civilians and "establish good security." The key is that the civilian population must be protected and its support secured, and "concrete signs of progress" must be clearly in evidence in "regenerated neighborhoods." Win the hearts and minds of the people for whom you're trying to secure their freedom and you'll defeat insurgents. Why? Because "through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents."

As Brooks writes:

The core insight is that you can't win a war like this by going off on search and destroy missions trying to kill insurgents. There are always more enemy fighters waiting. You end up going back to the same towns again and again, because the insurgents just pop up after you've left and kill anybody who helped you. You alienate civilians, who are the key to success, with your heavy-handed raids.

Instead of trying to kill insurgents, Krepinevich argues, it's more important to protect civilians. You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don't have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement.

Once you've secured a town or city, you throw in all the economic and political resources you have to make that place grow. The locals see the benefits of working with you. Your own troops and the folks back home watching on TV can see concrete signs of progress in these newly regenerated neighborhoods. You mix your troops in with indigenous security forces, and through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents.

Most damning of the U.S. military effort to date in Iraq is that, according to Brooks:

There is no clear strategy. There are no clear metrics.
Were there, Brooks contends, one could drive safely from the heart of Baghdad out to the airport, without risking life and limb.

Most telling among Brooks' observations is the following (of which I'm in agreement):

Today, public opinion is turning against the war not because people have given up on the goal of advancing freedom, but because they are not sure this war is winnable. Why should we sacrifice more American lives to a lost cause?

This blogger thinks the president has worn out his welcome with those careworn cliches he's been relying upon to explain our need to be in Iraq in order to defeat international terrorism. We all know them by heart by now. Contrary to what the NYT's Frank Rich thinks (see my prior post), we're not idiots. The president must tell us how we're going to win the war and regularly update the American people on the broad strokes of our military strategy, the key metrics being employed by our commanders in the field, and how results on the ground there square with those metrics.

I no more want to hear from the president that "we're fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we don't have to fight them here at home," than I want to listen to the tired refrain from the Camp Casey crowd that "the president lied to us ... there were no WMDs in Iraq." I want substance over blather and bromides.

And, I want to win.

And as I have written before and posted in this blog, it's increasingly hard for me to have faith in George Bush's credibility and skills as a Commander-In-Chief in the war on terrorism, when he recklessly leaves our borders unprotected here at home and supports amnesty for 11+ million illegal aliens. His strategy in Iraq and his uninterest in securing our borders here at home are contradictions in terms.

And I must say, in the context of the Krepinevich prescription for winning, that the president and our do-nothing Congress can't even secure "safe havens" for American property owners along our contiguous U.S. border with Mexico or protect our U.S. Border Patrol agents and their assets!

Talk about a credibility gap!